KATE Forbes has demanded a meeting with NHS Highlands and Scottish ministers after several health care construction projects in the Highlands have been paused – including a major £9 million overhaul of a maternity ward.

The £9m improvement plan for new wards passed its final hurdle to get planning permission from Highland Council earlier this month – and it has now been paused among several other projects. 

On Tuesday, it was reported by P&J that health boards across Scotland were told to halt any new construction projects due to pressures over budget.

The maternity unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness was to be revamped with the hope that women from Moray and Caithness could give birth in Inverness as early as 2025.

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Caithness General Hospital in Wick is understood to be under assessment along with several other projects.

A replacement for Belford Hospital in Fort William, one of Scotland’s busiest rural hospitals, is also on hold. The U-turn means that new projects may face up to two years' delay.

Groundwork on the Belford Hospital – known for its trauma expertise – has already begun with construction work due to begin next year.

Forbes has requested a meeting with officials after saying “campaigners have fought tooth and nail”.

The National: Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch

The former finance secretary said: “Community campaigners have fought tooth and nail to ensure that plans for a new hospital progressed, with widespread agreement, and it is now shovel ready.

“I recognise constraints over public finances just now – but the moral of the story is that if NHS Highland hadn’t dithered over progressing plans between 2015 and 2020, the New Belford might have even been built right now.

“I have written to NHS Highland and to the Scottish Government to ask for a meeting and to unequivocally express my complete opposition to anything which jeopardises the build of a New Belford.”

An NHS Highland spokesperson said: “Our staff and communities have invested time and effort into these projects, and we know this news will be difficult to hear.

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“We are contacting key stakeholders as a priority so that we can work through the implications with them.”

NHS Grampian also confirmed it has paused new capital but could not comment on individual projects at this stage.

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that when considering revised infrastructure investment and identifying “priorities”, it did not identify Highlands projects.

They said: “The UK Government did not inflation-proof its capital budget which has resulted in nearly a 10% real-terms cut in the Scottish Government’s capital funding over the medium-term between 2023-24 and 2027-28.

“Our emphasis for the immediate future will be on addressing backlog maintenance and essential equipment replacement.

“Our Infrastructure Investment Plan (2021-22 to 2025-26) identified the priority health capital projects for funding within that period.

“As a result of the cut in our capital budget, a revised pipeline of infrastructure investment will be published in spring 2024.

“All due consideration will be given to what projects can be included within that revised plan to ensure it is affordable and deliverable. In the interim, boards have also been advised to pause any new capital projects.”