SCOTLAND’S national clinical director has visited the Borders to discuss the key challenges that continue to face the region’s health board.

Professor Jason Leitch said it was “an absolute pleasure” to meet staff at the Hay Lodge Health Centre, on Neidpath Road, Peebles, during his time in the area.

He was joined on Monday by Dr John Harden, deputy national clinical director, and Dr Grace Lindsay, Scottish clinical leadership fellow.

In a message to staff posted on social media, Prof Leitch said: “What a fantastic day in NHS Borders. It’s been an absolute pleasure to visit the general hospital, to be in Hay Lodge Health Centre to meet staff, to meet those who clean the sheets, those who cook the meals and those who look after our patients and families across this area. It really has been an honour.

“Thank you for everything you’ve done, particularly over the last two years. I’m sorry it’s not completely over, I’m sorry it feels hard, it feels, still, as though there is lots to do but I’m really hopeful from the people that I’ve met today that NHS Borders is ready for that next challenge.”

NHS Borders’ services have been under pressure over the past two years, with the health board issuing a number of statements this year warning residents of long waits at Borders General Hospital.

Recent figures showed that the area was performing below the national average for A&E patients to be seen within four hours.

But the health board has been bolstered in recent weeks, with five international nurses set to be deployed in the region to help ease pressures. Meanwhile, Prof Leitch’s visit coincided with mental health awareness week. Loneliness is this year’s theme.

Pippa Walls, public health lead for mental health and suicide prevention, said: “We know that some people are at higher risk of experiencing loneliness and the evidence shows the longer we feel lonely, the more we are at risk of mental health problems.

“We are also highlighting that preventing mental ill health is possible, and there are things that we can all do to protect our mental health and wellbeing.”

This week, the Mental Health Improvement and Suicide Prevention Steering Group is launching a consultation on its new three-year action plan.

Ms Walls added: “We’d like to encourage everyone to take part in our survey which will help shape the action we take on preventing mental ill health and promoting and protecting good mental health over the next few years.”