Caithness maternity role reversal 'would lead to public outcry'
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Highland health chiefs have been told there would be an outcry if most mums-to-be from Inverness were forced to travel more than 100 miles to Caithness to give birth.
The vast majority of women from the far north now have their babies at Raigmore, but a member of Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) claimed families in the Highland capital would find it unacceptable if the roles were reversed.
The point was one of many put across during a face-to-face discussion at the weekend between CHAT and NHS Highland's outgoing chief executive, Pam Dudek, accompanied by Sarah Compton-Bishop, chairperson of the NHS Highland board, and Pam Cremin, who is its chief officer, community.
The campaign group said the two-hour meeting in the conference room at Caithness General Hospital had been "conducted in a spirit of cooperation".
Last week, CHAT maintained that no "proper answer" had been put forward in the seven years since the consultant-led maternity unit in Wick was downgraded to a midwife-led facility.
The group has been calling for the so-called Orkney model – a midwife-led unit backed up by consultants – to be introduced in Caithness. Around 80 per cent of Orkney mothers give birth in their local area.
CHAT secretary Maria Aitken told Saturday's meeting: "The present situation is simply neither acceptable nor sustainable."
She pointed out that during 2022 only eight mothers gave birth in the community midwifery unit at Wick, with 202 mums being obliged to travel more than 100 miles to Inverness to have their babies.
She also highlighted the "high level" of inductions and caesareans undergone by local mothers. Emphasising the "distress and worry" caused to mums, Mrs Aitken said some had been left unwilling to have another child.
She also raised the question of travelling expenses for patients who are required to go to and from Raigmore for procedures and clinical consultations, and will be submitting a full report on this to NHS Highland.
CHAT member Iain Gregory claimed: "There is an overwhelming need for CHAT to be recognised as an equal partner, with a seat at the top table in all matters relating to healthcare in the far north."
He added: "If the current situation were to be reversed, and 94 per cent of Inverness mums were required to undergo a torturous and hazardous 100-mile-plus journey to Caithness to give birth, there would be a public outcry.
"Action is needed now before a tragedy occurs."
North Highland Women's Wellbeing Hub representatives Claire Clark, Kirsteen Campbell and Rebecca Wymer also took part in the discussion along with members of the public who shared some of their experiences.
CHAT chairman Ron Gunn said afterwards: "Everyone around the table felt that it was a very constructive meeting, that experiences were shared that needed action, and that the NHS Highland representatives present accepted that.
"In the spirit of continuing to work together I was delighted to hear Pam Dudek inform us that she will be inviting the new chief executive to meet with CHAT before she finishes in March."
Pam Cremin said later: "We had a positive meeting with CHAT and we have an ongoing shared desire to improve services for the community going forward."
Local MP Jamie Stone warned earlier this month that the current level of maternity provision in Caithness is "a recipe for tragedy" and urged the Scottish Government to recognise the "dangerous realities" facing mothers who have to make the journey to Raigmore.