CLAIMS are being made that the NHS in Dumfries and Galloway is holding secret talks over the possible closures of cottage hospitals.
This includes the Thomas Hope Hospital in Langholm.
David Mundell, MP, and Oliver Mundell, MSP, who both represent the town, have called on NHS Dumfries & Galloway to commit to the long-term future of cottage hospitals after rumours of plans to close some of them circulated.
They were contacted by a number of well-informed constituents who were concerned that discussions to axe the much-valued community beds were taking place behind closed doors, without public consultation.
The suggestion has been made that the hospitals are no longer fit for purposes or needed in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.
They believe it is too early to make that kind of assessment and are worried that this may just be the latest in a long line of excuses for trying to shut their doors.
They have written to Jeff Ace, chief executive, asking him to dispel the claims and confirm that no plans to permanently close the hospitals in Moffat, Annan, Langholm, Thornhill and Lochmaben are under discussion.
Oliver Mundell has also lodged parliamentary questions at Holyrood to seek assurances from the government that major changes to service delivery should not go ahead without consultation and should not take place during a global health pandemic.
David Mundell said: “I have lost count of how many times these hospitals have been threatened with closure in recent years and I’m concerned to hear from constituents that plans may be afoot to do so at this time.
“The virus outbreak will have an impact on how health services are delivered but this cannot be used as a justification for closures.”
Oliver Mundell added: “People will be worried to hear that such a major redesign of health services could be underway without any consultation.
“The hospitals and their staff do an exceptional job for communities and allow people to receive treatment and care closer to home.
“Getting NHS services back to normal should be the first priority at this time and big decisions like this should be kicked into the long grass until there is time to properly engage with residents.”
An NHS Dumfries & Galloway spokesman said: “We believe these concerns result from a decision to task four cottage hospitals to serve as dedicated step-down facilities for treating COVID-19 patients as part of escalation plans to address the coronavirus.
“We have been fortunate that we did not have the number of cases of COVID-19 here in the first wave which we might have expected.
“We attribute this to fantastic ongoing public compliance with national guidance and the work undertaken to suppress replication, now backed by Test and Protect.
“A consequence of these low numbers of cases is that we have not had to rely on these four dedicated hospitals in Kirkcudbright, Moffat, Thornhill and Newton Stewart.
“While they might have been among the busiest if we had experienced a high number of cases, the resulting lack of activity has given rise to concerns over their usage.
“While we have not yet had to rely on them, we remain in a precarious position.
“There is a possibility of a second wave of infections, faced by a population which has had little exposure to the virus and has very little resistance.
“Arrangements for those four hospitals to stand ready as step-down facilities remain in place.
“Staff, who would normally work in the cottage hospitals, are temporarily supporting either other cottage hospitals or the community nursing teams.
“They are also positioned to support care homes in the event of staffing shortages because of COVID-19.
“It would be difficult to overstate the effect that COVID-19 has had on every health and social care service here.
“It is also unavoidable that we will need to adapt and evolve the way services are delivered to minimises the risk of cross-infection to patients and staff.
“There will likely be no service unaffected in some way by this situation and this includes cottage hospitals where layouts can create particular challenges around COVID-19 transmission.
“We are focused on re-establishing services for the most urgent cases, including those, whose wait for treatment has been extended by this emergency.
“A large amount of work is needed on the wider range of services and it’s not realistic to give assurances or commitments over how any service will operate as we continue to adapt.
“Any long-term changes, which result from this adaptation, will be developed in partnership with communities, staff and stakeholders and with proper consultation.”