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Health boss to look at Caithness maternity services

By Gordon Calder

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A NORTH health boss is willing to look at ways of improving maternity services in Caithness, according to a local campaign group.

Representatives of the Caithness Health Action Team (Chat), called for changes to be made so more pregnant women can give birth in Wick rather than having to travel over 100 miles to have their babies in Inverness. The plea was made by Chat chairman, Bill Fernie, vice-chairman, Ron Gunn and secretary, Maria Aitken, when they met new NHS Highland chief executive, Pam Dudek, at Caithness General hospital.

Bill Fernie wants maternity services in Caithness based on the Orkney model
Bill Fernie wants maternity services in Caithness based on the Orkney model

They urged Mrs Dudek, who took up her post last month, to consider introducing a maternity scheme in Caithness on similar lines to the model in Orkney which has an obstetric-supported rather than an obstetric-led service. The unit is midwife-led but has an obstetrician, if required, and can deal with gynaecological issues as well. Such a system would allow the majority of local mothers to give birth safely in the far north, say Chat.

"She seemed to be amenable to the idea and is keen to look at suggestions coming from the community. We will be pushing to try and get more services here, including maternity. We are still not happy that so many women are sent to Raigmore to give birth. NHS Highland has made some changes but there is still a lot of women going down the road to have their babies," said Mr Fernie who would also like to have better gynaecological services in the far north.

He pointed out that pregnant women who have to stay in accommodation at Kyle Court do not receive vouchers for food and feels that should be changed.

Mr Fernie said good health provision is needed to try and attract people and companies to the area to compensate for the loss of jobs with the decommissioning of Dounreay.

The maternity unit at Caithness General hospital in Wick was downgraded from a consultant-led to a midwife-led facility four years ago.

"In November, 2016 our maternity service in Caithness was very rapidly downgraded with no proper consultation and no consideration of the socio-cultural community impact this decision would have on our fragile remote and rural community. We are feeling the results of this detrimental decision now, with the continued centralisation of services to Raigmore and a skeleton service in Caithness.

"Since the downgrading, our gynaecology service has also been severely reduced and that has left us with a near non-existent service in one of the most deprived areas of Scotland. We urgently need a full gynaecology service based in Caithness," said the Chat chairman.

"We know these are long term issues. We have been campaigning on them for four years and we are not going away," added Mr Fernie.

He acknowledges the health board has funding issues and says the Scottish Government needs to provide more money to NHS Highland if the situation is to improve.

After the meeting Mrs Dudek, said: "I was pleased to meet with members of Chat last week to discuss services in their local area. It was a constructive meeting and I look forward to continuing to work closely with them in the future."

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