Plans by NHS Western Isles (NHSWI) to centralise dental services in a new ‘clinical hub’ in Uist and Barra Hospital have been attacked by a local councillor as a “diversionary tactic” and a “flanking move” intended to secure the long-term closure of the hospital’s operating theatre.
The claims, by Councillor MacMillan, who represents the Comhairle’s Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eiriosgaigh agus Uibhist a Deas ward, comes following the announcement last week by NHSWI for the decision to relocate four dental chairs to the hospital in Balivanich, with the new dental facility being backed up by ‘mobile dentist chair’ service providing services to localities in the community and in care homes and which, said NHSWI, will ‘allow the service to be co-located with other clinical services’.
The move would also see the closure of the dental clinics in Lochmaddy and Liniclate following the closure of a similar facility in Lochboisdale in 2017.
The opponents of the plan claim that some Uist residents would face a round trip of 70 miles to access dental care if the relocation proceeds.
Cllr MacMillan said in his statement this week: “This decision on dental provision is the tactical part of the strategic decision by Western Isles NHS to close Uist Hospital by locating the dental surgery in the operating theatre suite.
“Centralising the dental service into the Uist Hospital”, Cllr MacMillan concluded: “is a flanking move to close Uist Hospital Operating Theatre Suite.
“The SNP Comhairle Group”, Cllr MacMillan stated, “had a Budget Amendment to dedicate money to provisioning the dedicated room in Taigh Cridhe Uile Nhaobh as the dental surgery to replace the Loch Boisdale Surgery. The proposal was supported by the two SNP councillors in the Barra and South Uist Ward and the five SNP councillors from Lewis and Harris.”
In his statement, Cllr MacMillan, also accused Labour Highlands and Islands MSP, Rhoda Grant, of calling for a government inquiry into the issue as a means of “taking the focus” off of Comhairle Convenor Cllr Norman A MacDonald – described by Cllr MacMillan as a “Labour party colleague” to Rhoda Grant – and who has voted, according to Cllr MacMillan, to back the Uist dental plan.
Cllr MacMillan said: “Rhoda Grant’s proposal for an inquiry is a politically motivated diversionary tactic designed to prevent the truth about Labour Party councillors voting to close the medical provision at Uist Hospital.
“Rhoda Grant should instead call for the Western Isles NHS to start telling the truth, to publish the voting record of the [Integration Joint Board] (IJB) meeting and explain the real reason for centralising the dental provision into the Uist Hospital which is to close the Operating Theatre and Resuscitation Room to remove the surgical capacity from the hospital.”
Responding to Cllr MacMillan’s claims, Comhairle Convenor, Cllr Norman A MacDonald stated that he wasn’t present at the last IJB meeting, and said that “assurances had been given” that the relocation of the dental service in Uist would have “no detrimental impact on the Uist and Barra hospital whatsoever.
“After the original vote at the IJB on this matter resulted in a split vote”, the Convenor continued, “from then on it was up to the chief executives to decide what would take place.
“I have no idea what kind of influence Cllr MacMillan might think I have”, Cllr MacDonald added, “as both Uist and Barra hospital and the Western Isles Hospital hospital are solely the responsibility of the health board and it is not for councillors to make any decisions on their future.”
Cllr MacDonald continued: “I have never discussed in any shape or form either the dental service in Uist or her call for an inquiry with Rhoda Grant.
“As to the colour of my politics, Cllr MacMillan’s claims are equally questionable. I have registered for the last fifteen years as an independent councillor.”
Responding to Cllr MacMillan’s claims, Rhoda Grant said: “Councillor MacMillan’s assertion would be laughable were it not such a serious issue in question.
“I have, from the outset in 2016, listened to the concerns being raised by constituents, by the Uist Locality Planning Group, by the Association of Community Councils, by a stakeholder event held in Lochboisdale, and by all local elected members serving when this proposal to centralise dental services was first aired.
“I have repeatedly made representation to the IJB, to NHS Western Isles, to the Comhairle, to the previous Health Secretary, and to the First Minister.”
Mrs Grant continued: “Health boards and local authorities throughout Scotland are having to make incredibly difficult decisions to fit with the reducing budgets they are being given and perhaps Councillor MacMillan, instead of throwing meaningless insults around, would do better focusing on bringing this to the attention of his colleagues in the Scottish Government, opposing jobs and services being taken out of local communities.
“This in an appalling decision, which flies in the face of local democracy, and constituents in Uist deserve to have their concerns heard, and heeded.”
Cllr Paul Steele, also a councillor in the Comhairle’s Barraigh, Bhatarsaigh, Eiriosgaigh agus Uibhist a Deas ward, said: “We, the Uist and Barra Independent Councillors, agree with our MSP that an Independent Scrutiny Panel should be set up to look at what is being put forward. We will also be writing to our MSPS, including the Health Secretary, inviting them over to Uist so that we can meet and discuss our concerns.
“It must be recognised that as well as the concerns on the future of our dental services, there is also the wider issue of the services provided from the Uist and Barra Hospital. It needs to be made quite clear to our Community what impact the proposed relocation would have on these services.”
NHSWI were approached for a response to Cllr MacMillan’s claims on the future of the operating theatre at Uist and Barra Hospital, but no response had been received at the time of going to press.
In a statement confirming the dental services plan issued last week, NHSWI said: ‘It is important to underline that none of the existing clinical services provided within the hospital will change.
‘While there will be a need to reconfigure the physical space, all of the essential and existing medical services will continue to be provided, including emergency medicine.
‘A team of local clinicians and managers is currently working on the redesign proposals, to ensure that patients’ needs are fully met.’