The chairman of the local health board has moved to allay fears over the future of the region’s four community hospitals – in Peebles, Kelso, Hawick and Duns.
John Raine alluded to last month’s annual review meeting of NHS Borders, at which medical director Dr Sheila MacDonald highlighted the need to review all clinical services, including the four hospitals.
Mr Raine said on Tuesday: “Regrettably, Dr MacDonald’s comments have been misinterpreted as an intention to close hospitals.
“We know our community hospitals are highly regarded, but the review will need to look at the way all our in-patient services are used and how the hospitals work as part of the whole system of healthcare alongside other health and social care services in the community.
“Eventually, we hope to have reviewed all our clinical services to ensure we are making best use of resources, as well as opportunities for improvement. The board can give a categorical assurance that any changes would be widely consulted upon.”
Mr Raine said a report on how the wider review will be taken forward, starting with the hospitals, will be considered by the board in February.
He went on: “This will include effective engagement with the public, staff and other stakeholders, along with timescales for the programme.
“All public service organisations need periodically to review the way they deliver services and we are no exception. We have budget pressures which mean we must continue to make efficiency savings, but the fact is we are given substantial sums of public money and we need to be assured we are using our resources in the best possible way for those we serve.”
Mr Raine added: “People across the UK are living longer and life expectancy in the Borders is the highest in Scotland.
“With an increasing elderly population, the availability of new technology and better treatments and medicines is to be welcomed.
“But nonetheless, these represent challenges at a time of public funding constraint and we need to carefully consider whether the way our services are delivered should be adapted, and indeed improved, particularly in terms of accessibility and equity.”
An online petition against any closures was launched on Saturday by Michael Grieve from Hawick and by Wednesday morning had attracted 1,776 signatures.
It states: “They (cottage hospitals) are not just buildings, they are living entities. They breath life back into our communities.”