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Concerns raised over high number of Caithness women being induced

By Scott Maclennan

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More than 90 per cent of Caithness mums gave birth at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness last year.
More than 90 per cent of Caithness mums gave birth at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness last year.

New figures reveal that more than half the births of women from Caithness last year were induced, raising questions about why such a disproportionately high number of pregnant women went through the procedure.

A Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) Freedom of Information request revealed 51 per cent of pregnant women from the county were induced, in the rest of Scotland it was just 33 per cent and in the Highlands it was 36 per cent.

Two weeks ago a trio of health campaigners secured an in-depth review at the Holyrood’s petitions committee ramping up pressure on NHS Highland and the Scottish Government ahead of health secretary Humza Yousaf’s visit this summer.

Among the arguments made by Billy Sinclair, Maria Aitken and Rebecca Wymer was the length of journey to give birth, and CHAT’s FOI revealed that 94 per cent of expectant mothers in Caithness made the trip to give birth in Inverness.

In 2021, just 10 births were recorded at Caithness General Hospital in Wick and, of those that made the long trek to Inverness, 92 out of a total180 births were induced at Raigmore and none at the midwife-led maternity unit in Wick.

Inducing a birth involves starting labour artificially to cause contractions and typically it is used when an expectant mother is overdue, if her waters break more than 24 hours before labour begins or if she or the baby have a health problem.

Though the procedure is generally considered safe, according to the NHS it is also known to be more painful and it will make it “more likely” to have an assisted delivery.

NHS UK states: “Induced labour is usually more painful than labour that starts on its own, and you may want to ask for an epidural. Your pain relief options during labour are not restricted by being induced.

“If you are induced you'll be more likely to have an assisted delivery, where forceps or ventouse suction are used to help the baby out.”

CHAT chairman and Caithness councillor Ron Gunn said mothers in the county were being treated as second-class citizens.
CHAT chairman and Caithness councillor Ron Gunn said mothers in the county were being treated as second-class citizens.

The chairman of CHAT and newly elected Thurso and Northwest Caithness councillor Ron Gunn said: “Induced pregnancies are far too high and, as the numbers show, the percentage is far higher than anywhere else in Scotland so that is unacceptable.

“We are concerned that the numbers of induced labours in Caithness women are so high because the health board is trying to fit their births into their schedule.

“We would always hope that women would be having a natural birth with all the problems and the pain involved in that as well, so when you take all that together we feel that the mothers in Caithness are being treated as second-class citizens.

“We have always said that the percentage of mothers going down to give birth in Inverness is far, far too high. A community maternity unit should be able to give birth to around 50 per cent of babies.”

Highland Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, working with CHAT, helped to gather information to shed light on the issue. She said: “These figures support exactly what Caithness communities have been campaigning for.

“I have been a long supporter of re-instating maternity services to Caithness and to deliver that safely the Scottish Government really needs to be innovative with their approach to recruitment, retention and training of healthcare professionals.

“Currently, this Scottish Government ‘solution’ of sending women to Raigmore is not working and the journey has never been risk assessed.

"It's imperative that this is addressed and I look forward to hearing what the Cabinet Secretary has to say on the matter this summer when he visits Caithness campaigners.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Highland said they would look at the figures in depth to ensure they have all the detailed information about inductions for patients in the county.

She added: "There are many clinical indicators for induction of labour, these are not particular to only Caithness women. This is a discussion between the woman and her obstetrician based on the risks for her and her baby.

"All women are individually risk assessed at booking and throughout pregnancy and this number could fluctuate. They are risk assessed on the basis of delivery for community midwifery unit suitability and midwifery-led care.

"Caithness maternity service was changed to midwifery-led services to ensure the safety of mothers and babies and provide the most appropriate clinical support for them at the time of delivery and immediate post-natal period."

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