An Inverness hospital will be short of up to 25 beds over the next five years, while a multi-million pound fire alarm system is fitted.
Raigmore Hospital will lose the equivalent of one ward as work begins on installing the Å3.5million system next year.
Each ward will have to be closed as the alarm system is upgraded. Hospital bosses believe the process will take until 2012.
Plans to ease the potential beds crisis at the 579-bed hospital include a new discharge lounge for patients due to return home.
From the end of September, they will be able to wait in the dedicated room for their lift home, rather than in a hospital bed.
It is still unclear, however, whether the 25 beds will reopen when the new fire alarm is fully installed.
The hospital's chief operating officer, Elaine Mead, said: "We have to ask are we maximising the use of these assets? Do we absolutely need these 25 beds if we have lived without them for five years?"
But an official spokeswoman for Raigmore said there were no plans to shut off the beds permanently.
The new discharge room was once porters' accommodation and a waiting room for patients waiting to be picked up by ambulance.
It is expected to be able to seat about 20 people.
Other steps likely to be taken to ease the pressure on beds include reducing the number of patients admitted the night before their operations.
Services such as physiotherapy may also be available at GPs' surgeries and in people's homes. Some patients could be moved to outlying hospitals such as the Royal Northern Infirmary or the Nairn Town and Country for post-operative care.
Stuart Denholm, clinical director for the specialist services unit, said: "Although a start date has yet to be finalised for the upgrade, in preparation for it we have planned to close one of the wards beforehand to test our arrangements.
"As part of this preparation, a discharge lounge will be opened in the hospital by the end of September. This will allow patients to wait for transport in a dedicated room offering a more comfortable setting, without making use of a hospital bed for longer than necessary.
"We are also working around further reducing the length of stay, estimating discharge dates on admission and eliminating the need to admit patients simply to access diagnostics.
"This will all be crucial in coping with the ward closure, the success of which will require excellent teamwork, not only from Raigmore but also with our colleagues in community hospitals."
The new fire alarm will replace a system thought to be up to 30 years old. Installation will start at the top of the seven-floor building. Engineers will work down floor-by-floor.