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A9 toilet map ‘to help ensure comfort and convenience’ for Caithness mums-to-be


By Alan Hendry

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CHAT vice-chairman Iain Gregory says urgent action is needed to ensure women can have their babies locally. Picture: Alan Hendry
CHAT vice-chairman Iain Gregory says urgent action is needed to ensure women can have their babies locally. Picture: Alan Hendry

NHS Highland has acknowledged that mums and mums-to-be from the far north may require frequent toilet stops on the 200-mile round trip to Inverness – so has come up with an at-a-glance list of lavatories that are available along the route.

The online Toilet Stop Map has been designed “to help ensure comfort and convenience” for pregnant women travelling between Caithness and Raigmore, using Google Maps to highlight participating loos alongside the A9. These include facilities in hotels and hospitals as well as public conveniences in towns and villages.

Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) described the map as “all well and good” but reiterated its call for action to rectify “the current unacceptable treatment of women in Caithness”. The campaign group argued that more women from the county should be able to have their babies locally rather than face “the trauma of travelling at all hours of the day and night” and in all kinds of weather.

The consultant-led maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital was downgraded in 2016 to a midwife-led facility and the vast majority of local women now give birth at Raigmore. CHAT has been calling for the so-called “Orkney model” – a midwife-led unit, backed by consultants – to be adopted in Caithness.

Karen Mackay, infant feeding lead at NHS Highland, worked with more than 30 businesses, police stations and fire stations to put together the Toilet Stop Map.

She said: “We all understand the difficulties that pregnant women can face during long journeys, especially when frequent stops are necessary. This map is designed to provide reassurance and support, ensuring that expectant mothers have access to as many facilities as possible.

“We want to make things as comfortable and be as supportive as we can and this is just one easy way we thought we could help.

“We’re incredibly grateful to all the businesses and emergency services that have come together to make this possible. We are delighted with the level of support we received from the community and people were really eager to participate to help ease the journey for expectant families.”

Speaking on behalf of CHAT, vice-chairman Iain Gregory said: “Sadly, every single year, the vast majority of new mums in Caithness are obliged to undergo the hazardous, and highly stressful, 100-mile plus journey to Raigmore to have their babies – a situation which is clearly both unfair and untenable. Not only that, they then have to face the same ordeal on the way home with a newborn baby.

Karen Mackay, infant feeding lead at NHS Highland.
Karen Mackay, infant feeding lead at NHS Highland.

“It is absolutely vital, for the welfare of both mums and babies, that they are able to access proper facilities as they travel to and from the city on the outdated and inadequate road system which exists north of the Dornoch Bridge and we therefore welcome the introduction of this map, and would thank Karen for her efforts, along with the local hoteliers and others who have so kindly offered the use of their facilities.

“That said, what we need in Caithness is urgent action so as to ensure that women can have their babies locally, right here in the county, which would mean that they no longer faced the trauma of travelling at all hours of the day and night, in all types of weather conditions, in pain, and deeply concerned for the welfare of their babies.

“A map showing locations for comfort breaks is all well and good, but CHAT once again calls upon the health secretary to meet with us urgently to discuss the position, and to agree an action plan and a timescale to rectify the current unacceptable treatment of women in Caithness.”

The online Toilet Stop Map has been designed to help pregnant women travelling from Caithness to Inverness.
The online Toilet Stop Map has been designed to help pregnant women travelling from Caithness to Inverness.

Gill Valentine, associate director of midwifery for NHS Highland (Highland Council area), said: “We are committed to providing high-quality healthcare services to communities across the Highland area. There is no doubt that there are geographic challenges, as there have always been, but this initiative is just one example of where we can use modern technology to make things a little bit easier.”

She said the map had been viewed more than 1000 times so far and other health boards in Scotland were being inspired to introduce similar schemes.


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