THE TOLBOOTH’S public gallery was packed with members of the public eager to discuss the future of Leanchoil Hospital.
Forres Community Council (FCC) included the topic on the agenda for its May meeting but members were surprised by the turnout of nearly 40 people, particularly when a number admitted they were there having read a Facebook notice calling for attendance to discuss a medicine-free facility.
FCC chairman Graham Hilditch apologised about “the misunderstanding that tonight is all about Leanchoil” and pointed out that the group had not posted anything on social media.
In April, the community council launched a campaign via the Gazette to safeguard the future of one of the town’s most treasured buildings in the likelihood it will be sold to developers by owners NHS Grampian.
FCC are looking for ideas for alternative futures but are initially committed to raising funds for a feasibility study.
Mr Hilditch explained: “We’ve already had a number of people contribute exciting ideas. There are great possibilities ahead but it’s still early days.
“We are meeting next with funding bodies to discuss funding for a feasibility study. We are confident we will raise the money.
“It’s a long term project and the condition of the hospital is a key factor.
“A local architect with local old building experience has already offered his services with a mind to renovating Leanchoil. A study would likely take six-12 months and we believe we will have the required funding for it in six months.”
FCC colleague Graham Murdoch confirmed the study will be the first step.
He said: “We need to know how much the building will cost to repair, who would use it and how sustainable would it be? We already know it will cost around £500,000-a-year just to run it, including rates etc so the fear is it could end up as a white elephant.”
He added: “This is a new step for NHS Grampian. The NHS haven’t done a Community Asset Transfer before.”
A man sitting in the public gallery raised the issue of currently insufficient health provision in Forres.
He said: “There aren’t enough local NHS beds already. My family had a crisis before Christmas and found there was no emergency 24-hour beds in the area. So why is the NHS reducing the number while our population is growing and ageing? Why not add 20 beds to Leanchoil where they are needed? Why weren’t the beds promised for the Health and Care Centre installed? Sending rehabilitation patients to Dufftown is crazy - we need local care.”
He added: “It’s only going to get worse unless there is some realism and long term thinking. Why is the NHS funding staff at Varis Court rather than Leanchoil? Leanchoil should be retained for the benefit of the people of Forres before the NHS allow it into the hands of the commercial world.”
Another member of the public pointed out that NHS Grampian appears to have been reducing service provision and capabilities at Leanchoil over recent months.
She said: “There were just four beds at Leanchoil in November. It’s hard to find staff for the hospital as there is no job security. My husband spent a month there as there were no home carers available. Certain areas are being shut off and they are hard boarding other rooms.”
Former Health and Social Care Services Committee chairwoman Lorna Creswell was the only local Moray councillor at the meeting.
She replied: “More people are choosing to recuperate at home but the emergency service needs more support. I’ve asked why Forres residents are ending up in Seafield Hospital in Buckie? I was told this is common across Moray. The findings of a review into local health care provision has been promised by November.”
The community is invited to Health and Social Care Moray’s ongoing engagement meetings regarding future provision. It continues with an options development workshop at Forres Town Hall on June 13 at 7pm.
FCC chairman Graham Hilditch confirmed the community council has organised meetings with potential funders of a feasibility study into Leanchoil.
He said: “We hope to have it in place and the study started by the autumn. We are delighted with the public response to date and the numerous interesting suggestions we have had. The building clearly means a great deal to the people of Forres.”
The next meeting of Forres Community Council is on Thursday, June 21 in the Tolbooth at 7.15pm.