The closure of NHS beds in Ward 3 at Belhaven Hospital continues. They have now been closed since water quality issues were identified at the hospital in August 2022.

Although the chargeable care home beds at Blossom House (Ward 1) saw their residents return over a year ago, the progress on the water issues elsewhere on the site has been slow.

It seems, from an update in January, that priority has been given to works on acute sites and thus the opening of Ward 2 as a community hub for therapists and vaccination centre has been delayed.

This delay has impacted not only Ward 3, where the vaccination team has been based, but also the opening in Dunbar of the James Court Hub for Smart Assessment. Of greater concern has been the loss of provision of the NHS beds in Ward 3 for step-down, GP assessment and end-of-life care. In August 2023, discussion was ongoing with GPs about use of the beds. In January, an update said that the future use of Ward 3 was undecided as priority has to be given to staffing at East Lothian Community Hospital.

This news is a blow to the community. Residents have made it clear that they want care close to home. In the absence of beds at Belhaven, people have been cared for in Edinburgh and Haddington. The latter is not easy to access without a car and, with a car, parking is difficult.

The continued closure of beds at Belhaven and Edington [in North Berwick] also affects bed blocking in the acute sector. If they were brought into use, patients could be cared for locally and free up beds in Haddington and the Royal Infirmary. They could be used whilst patients wait on care packages which are not easy to access. Overnight care is a particular problem, even for those with the ability to pay.

I know of people who would like to use Ward 3 for their very frail relatives. For some, the only choice is to pay for nursing home care but that, too, sees a shortage of beds in the Dunbar and East Linton ward and local people may have to seek beds in North Berwick, Tranent, Haddington or Edinburgh.

The situation also highlights broken promises on the future of Belhaven Hospital. In 2009, closure was averted and Health Minister Nicola Sturgeon promised new facilities. In 2018, Health Minister Shona Robison refused to commit £500,000 to upgrade Ward 2 because new facilities were to be developed. In 2020, there was the promise of new facilities at Belhaven and Edington.

Much money has been spent on refurbishing the water supply system at Belhaven and yet the NHS beds remain closed to patients.

The Health Minister has questions to answer on why residents of Dunbar and East Linton cannot be cared for close to home when NHS beds at Belhaven Community Hospital remain empty.

Jacquie Bell