A NEW £20m health and social care centre will give local people better access to vital services on their doorstep.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman made the promise as she represented the government at the traditional sod cutting ceremony to mark the start of construction work at the Broomhill site.

She told the Tele the Scottish Government was committed to better health and social care in the community as well as the future of Inverclyde Royal.

At the event she was joined by Greater Glasgow and Clyde's chief executive Jane Grant and the director of Inverclyde Health and Social Care Partnership Louise Long as well as local political figures.

Ms Freeman said: "People in Inverclyde don't need to worry about the future of the hospital.

"We are committed to the best health and social care services for local people in the community where it is needed and that includes hospitals.

"It is important that there are specialist services but we also need services where they are needed in local communities."

The cabinet secretary stressed that the benefit of the NHS in places like Inverclyde was economically significant.

She added: "The NHS is the biggest employer in Scotland so it is very important economically with the highly skilled workforce and investment it brings.

"This health and social care centre delivers huge opportunities"

Inverclyde's problems recruiting and retaining GPs in practices across the region has been highlighted recently.

But the health secretary said they were committed to setting up multi-disciplinary teams in the health centre with GPs at the centre of patients' care.

She added: "GPs will continue to be the lead health professional and the new contracts make that clear.

"What we want to achieve is finding the best health professional so that GPs are freed up to deal with the most complex health needs. As the population gets older the health needs get more complex and take up more time."

Around 300 staff including four GP practices, physiotherapists, social workers, speech and language therapists and community workers will be based in the new centre, being built on the site of the former Inverclyde Academy.

The new chairman of the Inverclyde Joint Integration Board Councillor Jim Clocherty was at the ceremony along with health and social care convenor Councillor Robert Moran, MSP Stuart McMillan and MP Ronnie Cowan.

They were joined by representatives of project managers hubWest Scotland and contractors BAM.

Around 2,000 patients and members of the public will use the centre each week and it will replace the old Greenock Health Centre in Duncan Street.

The director of health and social care Louise Long wants the new centre to be the driving force for improving services and putting their five year plan into action.

She said: "We want people to be able to see the right person, at the right time.

"That is what we are working towards and this facility helps us with that."

The choice of site has been been criticised in some quarters but health chiefs insist it will be suitable.

But Louise added: "This health centre is in good location.

"It is not far away from the old health centre.

"We have the hub run by Inverclyde Association on Mental Health right beside us.

"We will look to work together with them.

"There is a bus route but we will continue to talk to the local bus company to see what more we can do."