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Work set to start on £42 million world-class treatment centre in the Highlands

By Val Sweeney

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Deborah Jones, of NHS Highland, at the site where new treatment centre is going to be built.
Deborah Jones, of NHS Highland, at the site where new treatment centre is going to be built.

Construction work is finally set to begin in earnest on the £42 million world-class National Treatment Centre Highland in Inverness early this year.

The project, being developed by NHS Highland at Inverness Campus, will have 24-bed inpatient rooms, five operating theatres, clinics and outpatient departments offering healthcare for bone, muscle and eye conditions.

The long-awaited project has been hit by delays and rising costs but is set to transform the experience for patients undergoing a range of orthopaedic and ophthalmology procedures such as hip and knee replacements or cataract surgery when it opens in autumn 2022.

The contractors returned to the site following the festive period to start construction and although there could be some additional risks associated with supply chains due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is hoped this will be minimal.

Recruitment is already under way for the 236 staff which will include 57 new nurses, four additional orthopaedic surgeons, 5.5 full-time equivalent anaesthetists, three ophthalmic surgeons and six doctors for overnight cover plus a range of domestic and decontamination staff.

Deborah Jones, director of strategic commissioning, planning and performance for NHS Highland, said it was "really exciting".

"It will provide an absolute world-class, leading-edge service," she said.

"I don’t think people are really aware of what is being built behind the building on the other side of the A9."

The new facility should reduce waiting times for elective surgery and will also enable patients to go home sooner.

Ms Jones explained that due to the region’s geography, patients arriving at Raigmore Hospital requiring unscheduled surgery due to trauma are currently given priority over elective cases.

An artist's impression of the new centre.
An artist's impression of the new centre.

When the new facility opens it will take lower-risk patients undergoing elective surgery and aims to offer an experience which is different to a hospital environment and reduce the post-operative stay to enable patients to continue their recuperation at home as well as being a place of innovation.

Ms Jones felt that hospitals could sometimes feel soulless and alien to those feeling anxious.

“We want to create a place where people feel comfortable and at ease and where staff are working to deliver first-class care,” she said.

It will mean the culmination of a vision first discussed about seven years ago which was initially was going to be part of a broader venture involving Highlands and Islands Enterprise and the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Initial costs were estimated at £16 million but as these spiralled amid delays, the project was re-evaluated and amended with NHS Highland progressing the project with Scottish Government funding.

Ms Jones acknowledged the process had been quite “tortuous” but insisted the partnership between the three organisations remained strong with them working together on a range of projects.

She praised the health authority’s estates team and clinicians who have been closely involved.

"We have fantastic clinicians," she said.

"To be honest, we would not be where we are without their interest and support and sheer force.

"We spent a lot of time where we redesigned the facility to reflect the needs and make cost savings but there will be no material impact on the service we wanted to deliver."

In developing the new centre, there was an expectation that the pathway of care would be retuned and improved.

"We have taken knocks in the last few years but the clinicians have really supported us and really believed in this whole programme," she said.

"This means an awful lot to the doctors and nurses."

The main contractor is Balfour Beatty.

Ms Jones felt in the past there had been a sense among many people that Inverness was sometimes at the end of the line for projects – although she did not believe that to be the case.

“"here has been absolute enthusiasm with the plan but a sense of disbelief we were going to get the investment," she added.

"People thought it was never going to happen.

"It is going to help us clinically. Everyone is really excited about it."

Related story: Plans for new healthcare centre

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