The shape of things to come?

Moray MP Douglas Ross and Cllr Feaver in front of Leanchoil Hospital

Proposals published this week for the future of Forres Health services include the permanent closure of Leanchoil.

This week saw the start of consultation with people who live and work in the Forres locality on a blueprint to transform local health and social care services.

The redesign of services aims to provide more care and support in people’s homes and the community, preventing unnecessary hospital admissions and supporting a faster return home.

The consultation is organised by Health & Social Care Moray, the partnership which brings together health, care and support services in the community and works under the direction of the Moray Integration Joint Board (IJB) “to achieve the best possible health and wellbeing outcomes for people in Moray”.

Rising demand for services combined with reducing funding and operational pressures are putting the sustainability of current reactive models of care and support at risk, said Pam Gowans, Chief Officer.

“They also don’t do enough to support people’s wishes to stay as well as possible, for as long as possible, so they can remain living independently in their own home in the community and avoid hospital admission,” she added.

The transformation plan has been drawn up by doctors, nurses and other professionals from across the health and social care system working in partnership with the community, Third Sector and Independent Sector and reflects on previous engagement with the community.

It was intended that the document be consulted on as part of a plan to determine how health and social care services could be reconfigured in anticipation of the possible future closure of Leanchoil Community Hospital. However, the reduction of nurse staffing levels below a safe operating threshold and challenges around recruitment resulted in the temporary closure of the hospital at the start of September.

The current plan proposes the permanent closure of Leanchoil and the creation of a multi-disciplinary team with staff from different professional discipline working in a more integrated way to provide a more responsive service for patients.

Health & Social Care Moray states that: “the learning from the current test of change of the Forres Neighbourhood Care Team providing care and support to people at home and in the short stay Augmented Care Unit (ACU) at Varis Court will be fully considered as part of the development of a new model. Nursing Home beds would be an ongoing option for commission in local care homes for the frail elderly who cannot be cared for at home and for patients requiring end of life care, should this prove under the current testing to be appropriate and effective.”

However, Moray MP Douglas Ross says the intention to close Leanchoil Hospital for good goes against the wishes of the local community.

Mr Ross said: “I have asked multiple times about the plans for Leanchoil given concerns that have been raised with me about its future. I’ve always been told that closure was a temporary measure due to staffing problems, yet this proposal for future health care in Forres is based on a model which assumes Leanchoil is no longer open.”

“I have written to the Moray Integration Joint Board to ask why the consultation has been produced on the basis Leanchoil will not be in operation, and what we can do to support local people who rely on it.  We also need to know what their plans are for the building if it is ultimately closed.”

Chief Officer Ms Gowans said that, while the final decision regarding the future of Leanchoil would not be made until the end of November, she has always been open about the fact that providing services from the much loved community hospital was not sustainable in the long term.

She went on to say that participants to events organised by Health & Social Care Moray over the last year have had the opportunity to discuss some of the challenges the partnership faces in terms of demographic changes, finance and workforce. “I hope people will now take opportunity to respond to this consultation and put their views forward.”

The Forres Community Council, supported by a number of members from the local community, recognised several months ago the challenges associated with running health services from Leanchoil, and started exploring opportunities to develop plans for alternative uses for the buildings.

Forres Community Council Chair, Mr Graham Hilditch, stated in April that “it is fairly obvious that with the current number of patients using the facilities [Leanchoil] represents a huge drain on NHS resources and it could be used more effectively. Looking forward, I would hate to see this fantastic building lost to the community and a Community Asset Transfer could be a long term solution, rather than see the building end up with developers. Future potential uses could include much needed sheltered housing, complementary healthcare facilities, or even student accommodation for Glasgow School of Art and all of the benefits that this may bring to the town.”

The consultation runs until 1 November and the findings will be presented to the IJB at its meeting on 29 November.

The Transformation Plan and link to the consultation response form are available on the Health & Social Care Moray website at https://hscmoray.co.uk/forres-locality-consultation.html

Printed copies will be available from locations including Forres Health Centre and the council access point or by contacting 01343 567187.

Members of the Forres Locality Professional Core Group which drew up the plan will be on hand to answer questions at the Culbin Medical Practice flu clinic in Forres Town Hall on 24 October from 9am to 4.30pm and the Varis Medical Practice flu clinic also in the town hall the following day from 9am to 4.40pm.