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Holyrood Notebook: 'Caithness mums being let down,’ says Highlands and Islands list MSP Edward Mountain

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Maternity arrangements in Caithness and Moray are simply not good enough, says the MSP.
Maternity arrangements in Caithness and Moray are simply not good enough, says the MSP.

NHS Grampian’s failure to properly resource Dr Gray’s maternity services means that attention has turned to Raigmore Hospital to extend their maternity care to help around 500 Moray mums who are without cover.

Everyone accepts this would be an impossible ask given the current staffing and facilities at Raigmore. Without significant improvements and additional staff, the team at Raigmore are convinced it would not be safe to take on an additional 500 mums from Moray. And the publication, in July, of NHS Highland’s and NHS Grampian’s proposals to achieve this has done little to reduce concerns.

Under these proposals the maternity unit at Raigmore will be upgraded and there is a target to recruit additional staff by December 2023. This will mean that at that stage the Moray mums, of which there are in excess of 1000 a year, will have the option to choose between Inverness or Aberdeen for a midwife or a consultant-led birth.

This is meant to be an interim option, until the return of a full consultant-led service to Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin. However, both health boards fail to give sufficient detail as to how that would be achieved. It is all very well making promises but you must know how you will deliver as the interim option of having Moray mums come to Raigmore must not become the norm.

We should not forget that the unit in Elgin was downgraded in 2018 and at that stage the Scottish Government promised to restore services by early 2020. It is now 2022 and the promise remains broken.

Related news – Concerns raised over high number of Caithness women being induced

The minister for public health, Maree Todd, stated the obvious when she recently said that the full return of maternity services in Elgin would not happen overnight. However, it cannot be acceptable for Moray mums to wait until the end of this decade for normal service to resume. We need action not promises.

And while this rumbles on it ignores what expectant mothers in the Far North have to face. It might only be a 40-minute drive from Dr Grays to Raigmore but it is a one hour and 40 minute drive from Caithness General. The minister, Maree Todd, and the Scottish Government cannot continue to ignore the hazards faced by expectant Caithness mums who continue to face long journeys to Raigmore.

MSP Edward Mountain.
MSP Edward Mountain.

It’s clear we need a review of maternity services in the Highlands and the added impact of the failure of NHS Grampian at Dr Grays make it critical. Years of underfunding and piecemeal redesign, based on centralisation and reactive management, without proper planning has meant Highland mums are in danger of being let down.

My recent visit to the maternity unit at Raigmore proved to me that much work is still to be achieved to bring it up to a standard we could be proud of, somewhere that the teams can work efficiently and where expectant mums want to visit. What I saw was; a ward that creaking at the seams, narrow corridors, cramped rooms, lack of facilities, staff struggling with conditions that were modern 20 years ago! It was only their determination to make it work that kept things going.

While the Scottish Government has promised £5 million to upgrade this facility I wonder if it will be sufficient to cover the much needed improvements and expansion of accommodation to families.

The Scottish Government is asking the NHS Highland maternity unit to cope with at least 500 expectant mums from NHS Grampian, when it’s struggling to cope with those in the Highlands. There are too many unanswered questions, which is why I will keep campaigning for what I believe most people would prefer in the Far North and Moray – full maternity services closer to home.

- Edward Mountain is a Scottish Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands.

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