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Caithness backing for flying medical team proposal


By Gordon Calder

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Rhoda Grant is hopeful that a new service could be established to fly a medical team to Caithness to deal with maternity emergencies.
Rhoda Grant is hopeful that a new service could be established to fly a medical team to Caithness to deal with maternity emergencies.

THE prospect of a medical team flying to Caithness to deal with maternity emergencies has been welcomed by local health campaigners.

Bill Fernie, chairman of Caithness Health Action Team (Chat), backs the proposal which emerged following a meeting at Holyrood between Highlands and Islands Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Mrs Grant said the meeting had been constructive and did give some hope there could be a new service established to fly a medical team to the area to deal with maternity emergencies.

A new initiative called Best Start, looking at overall maternity services, is also considering whether different skills and resources could be given to the Scottish Specialist Transport and Retrieval (ScotSTAR) team, run by SAS and used to fly in medical experts in emergencies to locations across Scotland. At present, it does not have obstetric/midwifery staff and Mrs Grant has raised this with Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman to see if the gap could be filled to help remote and rural locations.

Mr Fernie backs the proposal. He said: "We welcome anything that alleviates pressure on pregnant women and families. If they could fly in a medical team to Caithness that would make life a lot easier and would be a big bonus rather than the other way round.

"We mentioned this on a few occasions in the last four years but if the politicians are looking into this now it would be good.

"We would welcome anything that prevents so much travelling, but at the end of the day it comes down to cost. There are a lot of logistical and financial issues to resolve but they could be overcome if the political will is there to do something about this.

"We would like to see such a service introduced as quickly as possible. We would not be too hopeful about it coming in soon, but would hope the Scottish Government will consider it."

Mr Fernie said the maternity situation in Caithness is making people change their behaviour with some women renting accommodation in Aberdeen a month before their baby is due to avoid travelling to Inverness to give birth. He also pointed out that there are more births in Kirkwall than in Caithness, although Orkney has a smaller population.

This new development does give me some hope but we are not there yet.

Speaking after the meeting, Mrs Grant said: "This new development does give me some hope but we are not there yet. There is no timescale for this new venture to come before the Scottish Government as various groups are looking at issues around this.

"So, in the meantime, I will continue to push NHS Highland to look at a risk assessment for emergency transfers and obviously I still have concerns while any new system is being formulated."

A spokesman for NHS Highland said: "We would be delighted to engage in any discussions to improve services for pregnant women in our area."

An urgent review into the availability and suitability of emergency air transport for pregnant women across the Highlands and Islands was called for by Mrs Grant in September.

She made the plea to Scotland's health secretary Jeane Freeman after a Caithness mother went into labour at 30 weeks with twins last year. The babies were born over 50 miles apart – one in Golspie and the other in Inverness.

Ms Freeman suggested Mrs Grant meet with the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS).

The Highlands and Islands Labour MSP asked NHS Highland, SAS and the health secretary further questions after receiving an edited version of a Significant Adverse Event Review into the incident. She previously asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to investigate.

Mrs Grant repeated her call for a full risk assessment to be carried out on such emergency transfers and that a suitable craft be made available for airlifts.

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

At the meeting, the ambulance service and the coastguard agency said airlifting women in labour is risky and road ambulance is the best option.



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