Communities will fight any possible cottage hospital closures, say councillors

Mayor of Kelso, John Bassett.
Mayor of Kelso, John Bassett.

The news that a current review of health services in the Borders includes the region’s four community hospitals has been met with a swift and predictable response.

“I can imagine the ‘Hands off Hay Lodge’ banners being printed as we speak,” said Alasdair Stewart, chair of Peebles Community Council, in a reference to the town’s 23-bed facility.

Mr Stewart said the implications would be discussed by his council when it meets next Thursday.

“It’s not difficult to forecast our reaction,” he told The Southern. “We hear a lot about joined up thinking, but any plan to close Hay Lodge would be the epitome of dysfunctional thinking in a town where there are approved plans for hundreds of new houses.

“It would be an extraordinary situation to lose Hay Lodge.”

Equally incredulous at the prospect of closure on his patch is John Bassett, chair of Kelso Community Council and a former Army nursing officer.

“Less than a year ago we were told the future of our community hospital was secure because NHS health services and social care provided by Scottish Borders Council were being integrated,” said Mr Bassett, whose council will discuss the review at its meeting on Tuesday.

“The Inch Road site was seen as an important pilot to show how medical, nursing and social care could be delivered seamlessly on the same site. That was the grand plan, but it now appears everything is up for grabs.

“We’re told it’s best for people to be treated at home, but I can assure you that for the vast majority of the very ill patients in Kelso, going home is simply not an option. And who will care for them if they do go home?”

Future responsibility for community hospitals is part of the agreed remit of the new SBC/NHS Borders joint integration shadow board, chaired by Councillor Catriona Bhatia and due to become a separate legal entity late next year with an annual budget of around £120million.

Mrs Bhatia said the issue surrounding community hospitals had first been raised by medical director Sheena MacDonald during NHS Borders’s recent annual review meeting.

“Dr MacDonald did not say there would be closures, but that the hospitals would be reviewed as part of the wider service, with the agreed outcome of caring for more people at home or in a homely setting,” said Mrs Bhatia.

“However, I have now asked for this to be an agenda item at the shadow board meeting on Tuesday, when I will be asking for more information.”

As reported on our front page this week, local MSPs John Lamont (Conservative) and Jim Hume (Lib Dem) have made early soundings against closure.

But yesterday, the SNP’s Christine Grahame MSP hit out at both their parties.

“I fully support community hospitals, but this is an issue for NHS Borders, which like all public bodies is facing tough decisions because of financial constraints,” said Ms Grahame.

“It really is hypocritical for the Tories and Lib Dems – with another £37million in cuts to come from Westminster – to weep crocodile tears.”