NHS Shetland is to consult the community about closing the last parts of Montfield Hospital still set aside for patients.
An 18-bed so-called interim placement unit has been used to accommodate elderly patients discharged from hospital who were either waiting for beds in care centres or arrangements to be put in place to receive care at home.
But major advances in care services in Shetland over the past two years have ended the logjam and the unit, set up in 2005, has not had any patients since May last year.
With the great strides made in elderly care in the community the NHS Shetland board chairman Ian Kinniburgh was able to describe the Montfield unit today as effectively “a creature from almost a bygone age”.
At one time Montfield was known as the geriatric hospital and had around 30 elderly resident patients in three wards. Now there are none, although Shetland Islands Council runs a 17-bed Lerwick care home on the bottom floor after it was extensively converted last year.
Montfield also has a disused day hospital and some inpatient beds. These will be included in the formal closure consultation agreed by the board at today’s meeting.
The NHS hopes there will not be a public uprising of the kind that has greeted threats to Montfield’s existence in the past. Health professionals at today’s meeting were adamant the disused beds would not be needed.
The interim placement unit was kept available for a whole year to test whether it might be needed during times of problems, such as bad weather preventing patients discharged from the Gilbert Bain Hospital getting home.
But the severe winter had not posed any problems, according to director of clinical services Simon Bokor-Ingram. He said the bed occupancy rate at the Gilbert Bain was rarely ever above 90 per cent. The average occupancy is around 78 per cent.
He told board members there was “no indication” that public opposition would greet the closure plan and he did not expect it to if people had seen that the shift to community care made sense.
He said the progress made in getting the elderly out of Montfield was “an excellent example of joined-up working” between the NHS and the local authority and the result of “a massive change in culture” relating to elderly care.
Rather than being cooped up in a Lerwick hospital, he said people were able to be back in the community they wanted to be in and in surroundings that were more conducive to rehabilitation.
The council’s head of community care Christine Ferguson said the advances in care at home meant the local authority was seeing a reduction of more than 50 per cent in the waiting lists for residential care in Shetland’s homes and centres because there was now confidence in how care at home could be delivered.