Fresh clouds of concern are gathering over Stracathro Hospital amidst rumours of a further cut to services there.
It comes after a warning a gap in consultant provision could see admissions to the stroke unit stopped next week.
Continuing worries around temporary changes at the hospital have fuelled speculation the stroke unit is set for closure later this year with a possible move to Dundee.
Health chiefs have sought to assure the community that Stracathro will continue to play a key role in local health provision well into the future.
Angus Health and Social Care Partnership say a locum consultant is being lined up to plug the Stracathro gap.
However, if the situation cannot be resolved within days there will be no new admissions to the stroke unit and rehabilitation sessions will take place elsewhere.
The situation comes almost exactly two years on from a ‘vision of excellence’ for Stracathro being unveiled by health bosses.
That had followed the closure of the Mulberry adult mental health unit as part of a Tayside-wide review of provision.
Angus Health and Social Care Partnership position
Angus Health and Social Care Partnership chief officer, Gail Smith, said: “The stroke rehabilitation unit at Stracathro is open.
“We have been managing a gap in our consultant medical staffing in the Angus unit and therefore teams across Tayside have been working together to ensure we are able to provide appropriate input.
“This is alongside the nursing, physiotherapy and other healthcare professions which provide specialist services for our stroke rehabilitation patients.”
She added: “A locum consultant has been identified to support the medical input to the unit and this recruitment is currently being progressed.
“However, there is a gap in our consultant cover next week which the Angus Health and Social Care Partnership team is trying to resolve.
“If we are unable to identify medical staffing to provide the required sessions next week, there will be no admissions to the unit for that period and any patient requiring an admission for stroke rehabilitation will be treated in a nearby rehabilitation facility.
“The welfare and safety of our patients is our absolute priority and we are committed to delivering the very highest standards of care.
“We are aware of very significant recruitment challenges and as a result we may be required to make some temporary changes to our stroke rehabilitation service at Stracathro.”
Staff being ‘shunted and shifted’ around
One source said the consultant’s post had been advertised for some time but without success.
“While the staff have been told it’s temporary, there have been rumours of closure for the last six months that have always been dismissed,” they said.
“It is unsettling for staff and it looks like they are going to be shunted and shifted around to other parts of Angus, or Dundee.
“Stracathro could be used for so much more.
“It feels like over the past 30 years it has fought off a few attempts of closure, but will eventually succumb to partial and ‘temporary’ closures until there’s no way back.
“It is a great facility for the local community and the local population will fiercely protect this hospital.
“But if it is slowly being moved or closed, it might reach a point when it is too late and there won’t be an opportunity to save it.
“Families have donated to this unit and they deserve to know what its future will be.”
Brechin community council chairwoman Jill Scott said the situation was unsettling for Stracathro staff and patients.
“It is encouraging to be given reassurance from Gail Smith on the stability of the future of Stracathro.
“The community of Angus will always be on the alert to pick up any seeming indications that there is a threat to this vital local hospital.
“During the Covid-19 pandemic, it is understandable that staff are working under pressure and this is understood by the public, however, this must not be used as a route to closure,” she said.
“We are just a couple of days away from the end of the week and neither staff or patients know what the situation next week will be.
“That is not a good position for anyone to be put in.
“Rumours around the stroke unit have persisted for some time and concern remains that it will eventually be lost to Dundee, which must not be allowed to happen.”
Angus councillor and Angus North and Mearns Conservative candidate, Braden Davy said: “Not only do Angus people deserve stroke care in a trusted and safe local setting, I strongly believe the NHS and health and social care cuts of recent years need to be reversed.
“The closure of acute mental health care at Mulberry has had a seismic shock on our communities.
“I want that addressed immediately and a cast-iron guarantee that the rest of Stracathro isn’t frittered away.
“The board are going to have to produce some hard evidence that the 2019 Vision for Stracathro was more than just a mirage,” he said.