Angus health campaigners say community hub ambitions and the building they hope to take over are crumbling due to Covid-19 delays.
The pandemic has put Brechin Healthcare Group’s (BHG) plans for the town’s old infirmary on hold.
Frustration is growing that a decision on a community asset transfer (CAT) has now been delayed into the summer and an internal inspection of the former hospital just days ago has revealed the rapidly deteriorating interior of parts of the building.
NHS bosses say the delay is a consequence of the coronavirus crisis which put services on an emergency footing and saw standing committees suspended.
The campaign group said the demand on a stop-gap facility, The Jenner Centre, set up in the town to provide support and advice during lockdown, has only served to illustrate the important role the new hub could play in the community, and its recovery from coronavirus.
BHG chairman Grahame Lockhart said: “The original date for the CAT decision by the health board was last July, then it was put back to January and we hoped it would be on the agenda of the latest meeting last week.
“We fully appreciate the pressures on the health board and the demands put on their services and teams due to Covid-19 and we recognise the need for them to prioritise their work.
“However, future planning is critical and the pandemic cannot be used to justify failing to make an important decision.”
He added: “Some of our group were given access to the building last week and some areas have suffered significant water ingress.
“The longer a building sits empty the more it will cost to redevelop, and we have also seen in situations such as Strathmartine and Sunnyside the problems which can occur if properties are left over time.”
NHS Tayside declared the infirmary site surplus to requirements in 2018.
The CAT request was submitted in March 2019 and validated in January 2020.
It means the health board has acknowledged the request and are unable to sell the site to anyone except BHG until the request had been dealt with.
In the meantime, BHG set up the Jenner Centre in Brechin’s former Santander Bank branch as a stop-gap measure which has proved a crucial local asset during the coronavirus crisis.
BHG secretary Nilima Puthu said: “The Jenner Centre continues to offer vital accommodation to a number of organisations giving them the opportunity to have face-to-face meetings with vulnerable people during lockdown.
“Our experience at the Jenner Centre, where at present a small number of groups and organisations offer weekly face-to-face support to clients who have long-term health conditions exacerbated by the pandemic, is an indication of the local help and support needed.
“There are also many groups who cannot offer vital support because of coronavirus restrictions whom we hope to welcome back soon to the centre.
“This is a clear indication of the difficulties and pressures faced by all in health care”.
Fears demand will outgrow space available
The group also fears demand will outgrow the current space available.
Mr Lockhart said: “With all that’s happening at the Jenner Centre we are aware that very soon space will run out for everyone keen to use it.
“The pandemic has shown to an even greater extent the need for what we aim to deliver, but we want to be proactive on this, not merely reactive.
“We are very frustrated over this loss of valuable time.
“It is critical that we get a ‘yes’ decision soon from NHS Tayside so that the folk in our community can benefit from local health and wellbeing help and support.”
An NHS Tayside spokesperson said the health board’s executive team “remains committed” to the CAT application.
“In January 2021, in line with other health boards, in response to the pandemic, Tayside NHS board agreed to the deferment of the board’s standing committees,” they said.
“The community asset transfer process dictates robust and comprehensive governance arrangements at executive officer level and at standing committee and board levels.
“There are multiple steps in this process to assure all parties that full consideration is given to any application.
“The NHS in Scotland remains on an emergency footing and, as such, the adapted governance arrangements remain in place at this time.
“The executive team remains committed to the consideration of the application by Brechin Healthcare Group and it will make its recommendation to the board in respect of the community asset transfer in order that Tayside NHS board may consider a final report towards the end of the first quarter of the financial year 2021/22.”