Assurances on cardiac care in Highland Heartbeat Centre row
NHS Highland has sought to assure users of a cardiac rehabilitation centre in Inverness that they will receive a better service once it closes.
Campaigners want to save the Highland Heartbeat Centre and have criticised NHS Highland's handling of its closure.
The health board is preparing to move to a clinic-based joint physiotherapy and specialist nurse patient assessment arrangement by early June 2017.
It is recruiting extra cardiac rehabilitation specialist nurses.
The new set-up would see cardiac rehabilitation offered as an outreach service across the health board's region, including through some local leisure centres.
NHS Highland said the Highland Heartbeat Centre at Raigmore Hospital would not close until the alternative arrangements were in place.
The health board said it wanted to use the space at the centre, which opened 12 years ago following fundraising efforts, for other clinical services that needed to be on the hospital site.
Thousands of pounds
Charlie Bloe, clinical ward manager for coronary care at Raigmore, said he understood why members of the public had concerns about the closure.
He told BBC Radio Scotland: "We have been very sympathetic to the views of the various charities that contributed to the development of the Highland Heartbeat Centre.
"Cardiology and cardiac nursing is a fast evolving specialism and the way in which you deliver modern-day cardiac rehabilitation has changed significantly in the last 10 years.
"The Highland Heartbeat Centre has been a really well-used facility that lots of people have benefited from over the last decade.
"The assurances I want to give them is that patients will continue to benefit from an improved cardiac rehabilitation service, albeit it won't be in the Highland Heartbeat Centre."
The centre was opened in 2005 after hundreds of thousands of pounds was raised through a public fundraising effort.
The rest of the money needed was provided by the British Heart Foundation.
Inverness Bravehearts, a charity involved in the centre, said the building should continue as a base for cardiac rehabilitation for patients in the Inverness area.
It criticised the planned new arrangement.
A spokeswoman for the charity said: "These proposals do not in any way represent the NHS's previously promised equitable solution, equivalent to the specialist facility of the current Highland Heartbeat Centre and the services it provides.
"These proposals do not respect and reflect the Highland public's commitment and £1m investment in the centre and it's dedicated cardiac rehab programme."
The campaign group, We All Need the Heartbeat, said it was "laughable" for NHS Highland to describe its planned new arrangement as an improvement on what the centre offered.
It said the health board's plans were "motivated by a property-grab" on a building supported by public fundraising.