Case Study – Migdale Hospital, Bonar Bridge

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Replacing Bonar Bridge’s Migdale Hospital with this 22-bed community health facility shows good practice for a rural community hospital. The site benefits from considerable stakeholder consultation, local materials and a sensitive response to the site’s sloping context.

Migdale Hospital Initial Site Sketch
Migdale Hospital Initial Site Sketch Credit Austin:Smith Lord


Over 15 years, community groups, local councillors, staff, patients, and patient representatives were consulted on the new facility. Migdale Hospital, completed in June 2011, replaces an older hospital building, originally designed as a Victorian ‘Poorhouse’ to support and provide housing for the dependent or needy. Unfit for purpose, NHS Highland sold the original hospital to create this modern space.

The older building’s narrow corridors, 4 and 5 bed wards, inadequate sanitary facilities and split-level accommodation restricted its usability. Here, long-stay elderly patients suffered. Keeping the older building required an unviable refurbishment. And so, NHS Highland’s proposed this new hospital, with integrated care and single-bed rooms. Scottish Government Health and Social Care Directorate (SGHSCD) policy guided this approach.

The new hospital is a 22-bed community health unit serving the rural Sutherland area of NHS Highland. This covers Inverness to Wick.

The rural community hospital has two wards: an Older Adult Mental Health Assessment Unit (Strathy) and a GP Acute Unit (Kyelsku). A number of outpatient services are also provided including Physiotherapy, Occupational Therapy, Audiology, Rehabilitation Classes, and Memory Clinics.


Approaching Bonar Bridge from the south, the new community hospital can be seen on the hill ahead. The building sits close to the heart of the village. It sits within a series of smaller blocks more residential in scale and nature.

Migdale Foyer John Paul Photography
Use of natural light at Migdale Hospital Credit John Paul Photography

The building form is simple and straightforward and works well with the operational aspects of the facility. The stepped section has single aspect to the ground floor and dual aspect on the upper floor. The lower floor of the building is cut into the slope and houses the outpatient functions, staff and community accommodation and the mortuary. Ancillary accommodation such as plant, changing rooms etc. are cut into the hillside where natural light is not as essential.


The new facility displays a linear roof profile with an array of solar panels installed post-completion.  Early designs featured a planted roof to soften the building’s visual impact. The solar panels instead allow for community energy savings. After completion, the roof space lease provided additional revenue for the facility through the solar power feed in tariff. Although this is valuable revenue for the board it brings with it a number of difficulties particularly as it occupies large areas of valuable space within the ward stores.

Migdale’s Design Team placed an emphasis on low-tec approaches to sustainability. This included sourcing local materials, maximising natural ventilation and daylight, and ensuring a well insulated building fabric. At the beginning of the design process there were considerations of renewable technologies with micro wind generation and photovoltaic panels suggested for the generation of electricity and a wood pellet fired biomass boiler would provide the heat source; however cost restrictions on the project meant only installing the biomass boiler.


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“I think the experience we had with the client was fantastic…. they were very knowledgeable but they also made a point of involving the wider stakeholders and the community. The early design team meetings had 15 to 20 people at them, however, everyone contributed and had an input into the design process”

Iain Wylie, architect, Austin-Smith:Lord

“That was something we’d always hoped would happen, that patients would be discharged earlier from Raigmore, and get closer to home.”

John Bogle, Head of Capital Planning, NHS Highlands


Further Information

Case Study Dumfries & Galloway

Case Study Main Page

A&DS Public Buildings and Hospitals Work 

NHS Migdale Hospital Page

Austin-Smith: Lord Migdale Hospital

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Our case studies series shows the benefits of good design in Scotland’s built environment. As with this healthcare case study, we highlight the processes behind the built environment as well as the finished result. We wish to grow our collective understanding of good design practice. More of our case studies are available here. We want to grow this resource as much as we can. So if you have a question or comment about our Case Studies series, email us at

[Updated Wednesday 20 May 2020]

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