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Air support must be provided for Caithness mums-to-be, says MSP Grant

By Matt Leslie

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North MSP Rhoda Grant is calling on the Scottish Government to launch an urgent review into the availability and suitability of emergency air transport for pregnant women across the whole of the Highlands and Islands.

Mrs Grant, a Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, made her demand following the case of a Caithness mother who went into labour at 30 weeks with twins.

The babies were born 50 miles apart in a dash by a road ambulance to Raigmore Hospital.

Mrs Grant asked NHS Highland, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman further questions after receiving an edited version of a Significant Adverse Event Review into the incident.

She said: "After receiving the responses, I would sum up the situation as this – for any woman in labour and needing emergency help, going by road ambulance is really the only option and air transfer is almost a non-starter.

"Whatever the officials and government say, most people believe that an air ambulance is still an option when the truth is that it can hardly ever be used due to the constraints of the helicopter and the risks associated with giving birth in the air.

"I'm now calling on the health secretary to instigate a review, to ensure that any emergency aircraft can be large enough to carry medical equipment and be able take at least one qualified medic on board, particularly to cater for women in labour.

We really do need to ensure that everything that can be done is being done.

"I realise that pregnancy and labour are risks but we really do need to ensure that everything that can be done is being done to cover eventualities."

The mother of the twins, who wished to remain anonymous, is supporting Mrs Grant’s campaign for a review.

She added: "Why if the NHS is saying that the helicopter is not suitable for premature labouring women did the team in my case spend two hours trying to get a helicopter when I had already given birth to one twin?

"A helicopter was sent out but was unable to land. If it's stated it's not suitable then it should have never been sent or requested.

"I’ve supported Rhoda investigating this further because I don’t want any other mother going through what I went through, although the staff who helped me at the time were fantastic."

Caithness Health Action Team supported Mrs Grant in calling for an urgent review into air transport for expectant mothers in the Highlands.

"Following Mrs Grant's intervention, it is now apparent that in an emergency situation pregnant mothers cannot rely on air transportation or help from the ScotSTAR service," vice-chairman Ron Gunn said.

"The only option left is a two-hour transfer by road ambulance. Living in Caithness we are all too familiar with the many problems associated with driving on the A9, especially as we come closer to winter. Caithness women need to know they can get help quickly and efficiently when they or their baby needs it."

We offered on a number of occasions to meet with Mrs Grant so that we can help her better understand the clinical and logistical challenges

A Scottish Ambulance Service spokesperson insisted that the best interests of the patient in this particular case were followed and that they had previously offered to meet with Mrs Grant only for the MSP to decline all offers.

The spokesperson said: "We use the highest standards of clinical expertise to judge whether it is safe to transfer patients via air ambulance in complex situations like this – our review of this case highlighted that the correct procedures, in the best interests of the patient, had been followed.

"Transferring any patient in the advanced stages of labour via helicopter potentially places the lives of patients at risk and this is appropriately assessed on a case-by-case basis. In this case the helicopter was deployed to ensure specialist neonatal care was available to transfer the twins following their birth.

"We offered on a number of occasions to meet with Mrs Grant so that we can help her better understand the clinical and logistical challenges involved in air ambulance transfers. To date these offers have been declined."

NHS Highland declined to comment.

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