A WICK businessman claimed that around £1 million a year could be saved if the maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital had paediatric and obstetric cover.
John Sutherland, who runs Caithness Stone Industries Ltd, is among the many people in the far north who are unhappy about the move to axe three consultant posts and put midwives in charge of the baby unit.
Mr Sutherland paid “a couple of thousand pounds” to commission a survey from a Glasgow-based independent researcher with a medical and business studies background.
He investigated the cost of providing paediatric and obstetric cover at the Wick hospital and concluded that it would be safer and more cost-effective for local mothers to give birth locally rather than in Raigmore where a significant majority have their babies at present.
Mr Sutherland claims it costs £2900 to take a mother-to-be from Caithness to give birth at Raigmore while the figure would be £1100 for a child born in Wick with paediatric and obstetric cover.
Last year, 186 women out of a total of 225 (83 per cent) gave birth in Inverness compared to 42 out of 286 (15 per cent) in 2006.
Initially, Mr Sutherland estimated that more than £300,000 a year could be saved if most women gave birth in Caithness General and that could help pay for the cover required at the local maternity unit.
But yesterday he revealed the figure could be as high as £1 million when locum costs are added.
At present, the businessman said consultants are travelling from Raigmore to Caithness two to three days a week and that costs “serious money.”
In addition, he points out that most of the pregnant women have to go Inverness more than once, while travel and accommodation costs also have to considered.
Mr Sutherland argues that when a pregnant mother has to be transferred south it takes an ambulance and a midwife away from the north.
Having women giving birth in Wick would save them having to make long journeys to Inverness and remove the need for midwives to accompany them en route.
Mr Sutherland claims a consultant-led maternity unit in Wick with paediatric and obstetric cover would be safer and save money.
He said: “It would be better for the whole of the north and make people want to come and stay in Caithness. There is nothing wrong with the hospital or staff here.
“They are brilliant but we need to have the same things as Inverness. Once we have the consultants here, NHS Highland could do some private work as well here and earn some money.”
The businessman also called on MPs and MSPs to look at the issue in “a big, big way”. “That’s their job” he added.
A NHS Highland spokesman said: “The move to a midwife-led community maternity unit in Caithness General Hospital was made entirely on grounds of clinical safety and was not due to cost.
“NHS Highland is committed to achieving the best possible outcome for maternity and neonatal patients and we have followed the advice of external experts in this matter.”