The Scottish Government has been accused of trying to scrap health boards “by stealth” behind “closed doors”.
Fears have been raised that NHS Orkney and Shetland could be on a hit list of bodies to be mothballed.
The SNP want to “examine the number, structure and regulation of health boards” – a move which some have said could lead to the current 14 NHS boards being reduced to as few as three.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur led a debate in parliament yesterday calling on the Scottish Government to rule out scrapping the northern isles boards.
Health Minister Maureen Watt only said “there are no firm proposals on the table”, but insisted the administration was “committed to services being delivered locally”.
Speaking after the debate, Mr McArthur said: “The Royal College of Nursing Scotland has claimed that little or no engagement has yet taken place on the government’s stated intention – leading to a perception that change is being introduced by stealth, by a government talking behind closed doors. This debate was an opportunity for SNP ministers to address that criticism, be upfront about their intentions and reassure island communities that local control over health and care services will be protected. Instead, the health minister argued that the government has ‘no firm plans’ for health boards, but yet in the same breath questions their need. If alarm bells weren’t ringing before, they surely will be now.”
He was supported by the Scottish Conservatives, who criticised the lack of clarity on the plans during the debate.
Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron said: “The Conservatives are sceptical about the possible creation of super-health boards that would be run on a regional basis – if that turns out to be the case. l say ‘if’ because all of us here are somewhat shooting in the dark, as we do not know what the proposals are.”
Ms Watt admitted to the chamber that “there are no firm proposals on the table yet”.
But she added: “We are committed to services being delivered locally where possible, and we know that our islands’ healthcare services are experienced in serving the unique needs of their populations. The NHS staff on the islands should rightly be proud of their delivery of those excellent services. As MSPs have said, healthcare professionals know their populations and their needs. That is precisely our direction of travel.” pressandjournal