PATIENTS have attended the very first GP clinic to be held in the community’s new £250,000 health centre, with Staffin's youngest resident taking it all in.

Dr Hannah MacLeod, of the Portree Medical Practice, held patient appointments last Thursday, December 23, in the £250,000 base, which replaces the Nurse's Cottage in Clachan.

And young Ross MacDonald of Digg, who was only born in November, visited for a short tour with his mum, Kerry.

The new centre is part of Staffin Community Trust’s (SCT) Taighean a’ Chaiseil development in Stenscholl, which includes six houses and two business premises.

NHS Highland agreed a long-term lease earlier this month with SCT. The centre has a doctor’s consultation room, a nurse’s room, waiting area, toilets/baby changer and kitchen / staffroom.

Dr MacLeod said: “Everybody at the practice has been looking forward to getting into the new centre and it was like an early Christmas present coming in today. The clinic went well and the fact we are using a purpose-built building was really enjoyable, everything in here is geared towards what we need to do.”

Retired Staffin nurses Isobel MacDonald, Joan MacPherson and Lesley MacDonald also enjoyed seeing the new facility. Isobel said: "I'm delighted to see this finally open for the community and it will be a great asset for us all." Joan was the last district nurse to sleep overnight in the Nurse’s Cottage in 1975.

Retired Staffin nurses Isobel MacDonald, Lesley MacDonald and Joan MacPherson.

Taighean a’ Chaiseil resident Ann Marie Ferguson, who is a NHSH occupational therapist, and NHSH home carer Dawn MacDonald of Digg were also in attendance along with Councillor Calum Munro and SCT’s founding board members Angus Ross and Donald MacDonald. Councillor John Finlayson, who was a strong supporter of the new health facility, had a prior commitment while Staffin’s two other retired nurses Peggy MacDonald, of Staffin House, and Vicky MacLeod, of Garafad, were also unable to make it along to the first day of the new centre being operational.

The Nurse's Cottage.

It comes five years after SCT and Staffin Community Council made a joint submission to NHSH seeking support for a new health facility, amid concerns at the condition and suitability of the Nurse’s Cottage including access for the elderly and disabled, dampness, lack of privacy and inadequate car parking. The location and age of the property made improvements challenging for NHSH.

Both community organisations took the view the new development would be the ideal location for a purpose-built facility and NHSH supported the proposal.

Before SCT issued the construction tender back in 2019, NHSH provided the internal specification and layout to ensure it can be a versatile health facility. The building offers potential for digital health technology to be used to reduce traveling times for local patients. SCT will also encourage the use of the building for community health and well-being activities.

SCT would like to thank NHS Highland for agreeing to the project and engaging early on with the community's ambitions. A number of NHSH staff including Helen Emery, Kate Earnshaw, Ross MacKenzie, Heather Cameron, Paul Weller, Les Cannon and Steven Wylie were all involved while Melanie Newman, Kathryn MacKay, Dr MacLeod, Dr Marson and their GP colleagues at the Portree practice were also very supportive, as were Isobel and Mairi MacDonald of Staffin Community Council. SCT's partners, the Communities Housing Trust, were also integral to the health centre project coming to fruition with special mention of Ronnie MacRae and Susan Hunter who attended all the meetings in Inverness from the very start. SCT's solicitor Johnny Bell, of Twin Deer Law, has also worked extremely hard on the project for several years.

The new Staffin health centre.

The Nurse's Cottage was built by the Staffin Nursing Association in the early 1930s - with the unanimous support of the Clachan and Garafad townships - and 15 years before the creation of the NHS.

Local aquaculture firm Organic Sea Harvest is hoping to have the internal fit-out work of SCT’s two business premises, next to the health centre, carried out in early 2023. Income from all three properties will allow SCT to manage and maintain the development and any surplus will be spent on other community projects.

SCT will purchase the Nurse's Cottage from NHSH in 2023 and intends to offer the building as an opportunity for conversion into an affordable house.