HEALTH chiefs have admitted several Scottish hospitals could face closure – because the buildings are too old to care for patients.
Three NHS Lothian hospitals – Astley Ainslie, Corstorphine and Liberton – are under threat because they don’t provide the “optimal setting for patient care”.
Officials said the closures don’t pose any threat as more patients are being treated outside of hospitals.
But as closures were being discussed the Health Secretary Alex Neil said more beds are needed to deal with an ageing population.
Critics accused health bosses of “singing from different hymn sheets” and questioned the SNP’s pledge of maintaining crucial bed numbers.
The closures were announced at the same time a planning document set out NHS Lothian’s priorities over the next eight years.
The report stated fewer hospital beds may be required as more patients are set to be treated in the community.
Bed numbers in Lothian across all specialities have been slashed by almost 20% in the last decade from 4445 in 2003 to 3655 in 2012.
NHS Lothian said it is committed to its major hospitals but can make no guarantees over the smaller sites of Astley Ainslie, Corstorphine and Liberton – which have only 467 bed between them.
The health board said the buildings “provide less than optimal setting for patient care” and that it would now look at “opportunities to safely move off sites.”
But Mr Neil told workers at a Unison conference in Glasgow that a growing older population would mean the same number of beds in hospitals would be needed.
Labour Lothians MSP Sarah Boyack called for clarity on the contradicting messages.
She said: “Alex Neil is saying we need the same number of beds to cope with demographic change, yet NHS Lothian is talking about reducing bed numbers. It seems like they are singing from different hymn sheets.”
Scottish Tory health spokesman Jackson Carlow also accused NHS Lothian and Mr Neil of sending out mixed messages.
He said: “There has been no end of negative news stories from NHS Lothian about capacity pressure and other issues, how can it come to the conclusion it can afford to cut more beds is beyond me.”
In response Mr Neil said: “Even if we are able, through better treatment at home, to reduce by 50% the level of hospitalisation of our elderly population, we are still going to need the same number of beds, the same number of hospitals, the same number of doctors and nurses just to stand still because this population [over 75s] is doubling.”
Professor Alex McMahon, director of strategic planning at NHS Lothian said the board was committed to modern facilities, and there would be a rise in beds at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
He said: “We will review our current methods of care and make decisions on maintaining, expanding, refurbishing or replacing facilities to ensure we have the right mix of inpatient beds and capacity in the community to meet the needs of the growing population.”
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “We are committed to at least maintaining the level of quality and provision in Scotland’s NHS – and that means having the right numbers of staff and beds, in the right place.
“All health boards continually work to shape their services to best meet the care needs of their local populations.”