Barra shock as hospital pledge ditched
The transformed position was revealed in a call involving community representatives and the new Scottish Government Health Secretary, Michael Matheson. The only official account of what transpired has come in a letter from Comhairle nan Eilean Siar chief executive, Malcolm Burr, from their own perspective on the overall “hub” project.
The Western Isles NHS Board referred a Gazette inquiry to the Scottish Government who said: “We remain committed to delivery of quality health and care facilities on Barra; however we are managing unprecedented levels of inflation in all public sector capital projects as a result of Covid, Brexit, uncertainty in the supply chain and the war in Ukraine”.
Alasdair Allan MSP and Angus Brendan MacNeil MP took part in the call but neither has offered comment.
Jessie MacNeil, who was chair of the St Brendan’s Project Board, writing in this week’s Gazette, states: “When we were told that the new hospital was not even in the running for capital spending by the Scottish Government, we were absolutely appalled. This is the heart-breaking culmination of almost two decades of effort to get a new hospital for Barra”.
In his letter to stakeholders, Mr Burr wrote: “Regrettably, Mr Matheson was very clear: that the health care aspects of the project will not be funded any time in the near future… there is no capital budget available for the Health element of the project; current work in NHS Scotland is about reviewing existing capital projects; priority will be given to what is already committed”.
He said Barra “is still in the queue but health projects are in the queue with all other capital projects. This is the most disappointing news, to say the least”.
The Barra hospital, after having its business case approved in its own right in 2018, found itself lumped into a huge “community hub” approach funded through the SNP’s version of Public Private Partnerships and closely associated with the former deputy first minister, John Swinney.
There were severe misgivings on Barra both because of the scale of a multi-purpose “hub” in a small village and its design lay-out. Mrs MacNeil says firm assurances were given at the time of the “hub” approach that the hospital would definitely go ahead.
The other major element in the “hub” is to be a replacement school. Mr Burr wrote: “From the Comhairle’s own service perspective, we have made crystal clear the urgent need for the education, leisure and social care elements of the project to be delivered. I am pleased to be at least able to report that funding available for the education aspects remains intact, and we have confirmed this with Scottish Government.
“If the whole project cannot move ahead, the Comhairle will try to deliver the education, leisure and social care elements under our own steam. We remain committed to the whole project, including a new hospital, but it is a fact that proposals for the development of a replacement hospital have been on the cards for around 15 years.
"The Comhairle remains wholly committed to the Barra and Vatersay Community Campus but cannot reasonably wait any longer in the light of what the Cabinet Secretary said … and will now look to move ahead with developing its own services and facilities, and the funding to bring that about, as soon as we can”.
He expressed his “personal disappointment and dismay that, once again, the provision of these new and essential facilities has been delayed and put at risk by decision-making processes for one part of the project”.