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Insch Hospital "empty promises" protest at SNP conference

By Lewis McBlane

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CAMPAIGNERS for Insch Hospital brought their case straight to the heart of Scottish politics this weekend.

Local protesters took up banners to fight for the future of Insch Hospital outside the SNP Conference in Aberdeen...Picture: Friends of Insch Hospital
Local protesters took up banners to fight for the future of Insch Hospital outside the SNP Conference in Aberdeen...Picture: Friends of Insch Hospital

On Sunday (October 15), Friends of Insch Hospital and Community took their fight to have the hospital reopened to the SNP's party conference in Aberdeen.

Following its emergency closure at the beginning of the Covid-19 Pandemic, the much-loved local facility has lain dormant for three-and-a-half years.

The charity said the current shuttering of Insch and District Hospital left local communities in a "grossly unsatisfactory" position, "severely impacting on the people of Central Aberdeenshire".

Graham Matthews, chairman of the Friends of Insch Hospital and Community said: "Our communities have lost a facility that has a tremendous record for getting folk back on their feet and also providing much needed palliative care in a readily accessible location.

"The Friends have diligently followed up various possible avenues in seeking to reinstate the hospital related services we have lost here, but the fact is, after all this time and effort, the future of the hospital remains in limbo."

Palliative care was a strong point of the facility, said the chairman, and elderly people now face either "distressing" deaths at home or relocation to Aberdeen or further afield.

Closing the hospital's Minor Injuries Unit has also hit the community, he added.

Taking to social media after the protest, a Friends spokesperson said then-First Minister Nicola Sturgeon "personally" promised that the hospital would reopen when she visited Insch.

"We were doing this in protest of the continued closure of our hospital," the Friends spokesperson said.

"Healthcare in Scotland is controlled by the Scottish government – currently held by the SNP – so we hoped this might draw their attention back to our plight.

"During the last election campaign the SNP pledged to reopen Insch Hospital in both their manifesto and was stated personally by Nicola Sturgeon when she visited the village.

"This is nothing to do with party political preferences – the truth of the matter is that the SNP do have the power to change the situation at Insch Hospital."

Protestors at the SNP conference held placards which read: "Empty promises = no community beds"; along with: "Open Insch Hospital now!".

But, according to Gordon MP Richard Thomson (SNP), reopening would require the Aberdeenshire Health and Social Care Partnership (AHSCP) to submit plans to the Scottish Government – which it has not done.

Pointing the finger at the AHSCP, the MP said the only reason that Insch Hospital had not already been permanently closed is because ministers would have to approve it, which, he said: "wouldn't be forthcoming".

Friends of Insch Hospital outside the 2023 SNP Conference in Aberdeen...Picture: Friends of Insch Hospital
Friends of Insch Hospital outside the 2023 SNP Conference in Aberdeen...Picture: Friends of Insch Hospital

Speaking at a Holyrood committee meeting in September, chief officer for the AHSCP Pamela Milliken said: "The physical infrastructure is not appropriate for in patient care, both in terms of the size of rooms et cetera but also some of the other infrastructure.

"We are working closely with Friends of Insch to see what alternatives can be used in terms of that facility and also good community resources in the area.

“At the moment patients from that area travel to neighbouring community hospitals if they need a community hospital stay.

“I know every community would like to have their own local facilities, but in that particular environment it’s not possible to run in-patient services at the moment.

She added: "we are looking at the potential for a business case, but we know capital is tight."

Gordon MP Richard Thomson said: “I’ve held discussions with and corresponded with the former Deputy First Minister and the current Health Secretary and they were clear that the commitment to Insch Hospital is there but it needs NHS Grampian and the Health and Social Care Partnership to submit a credible proposal to Ministers.

"So far, that has not happened.

“I’m clear that the Insch community should have care beds returned to the area.

"I will continue to work with the Friends group and wider community to encourage the AHSCP to bring forward plans which can do exactly that.”

Local Conservative MSP Alexander Burnett said: “I’ve always known the Insch hospital campaigners to be apolitical, impartial and focused on one thing — securing the future of a viable and valuable community health setting.

“So taking the fight to the SNP in this way just goes to show how hard they will push for it.

“When the former first minister Nicola Sturgeon made an election promise to reopen Insch, local people formed a justifiable expectation of that promise being followed through.

“More than two years later, SNP Ministers and politicians are finding out how breaking pledges to communities ends up.”

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