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MSP questions maternity transport issues from Caithness

By David G Scott

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A NORTH MSP is renewing her call for a full risk assessment to be carried out on the methods of transporting pregnant women to hospital from Caithness to Inverness.

Labour's Rhoda Grant, who represents the Highlands and Islands, asked the First Minister why the air ambulance was not initially called when a Caithness mother went into labour at 30 weeks with twins in November last year. The babies were born 52 miles apart on the road trip from Wick and Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) had said the case highlighted the maternity problems in the far north.

Rhoda Grant outside Caithness General Hospital in Wick.
Rhoda Grant outside Caithness General Hospital in Wick.

Mrs Grant has now received a summary of the case report from the new NHS Highland chief executive, Iain Stewart, who said: “It is important to point out that the air ambulance helicopter is a highly unsuitable environment for the delivery of a baby.”

Mrs Grant said: “His answer begs the question – what is a suitable environment for pregnant women to be airlifted to hospital in an emergency and why was the helicopter called twice in this case if it was so unsuitable?

“Also, Mr Stewart’s letter only has a passing reference to Scottish Specialist Transport and Retrieval [Scotstar], a national service that provides safe transfer for some of the sickest patients within NHS Scotland. The clinical teams are called in to transport patients, from babies through to children and adults, by road and air. The expert teams include doctors, nurses and paramedics.

“Why was Scotstar not called in? There are many questions unanswered in this edited version of the review and, while I see the need for patient confidentiality, it does not give me confidence that a similar incident will not happen again."

She added that a full risk assessment "must be carried out" on what transport can be used and when and what craft is suitable for airlift in emergencies with pregnant women.

Mr Stewart stresses that the care teams involved in the birth “behaved appropriately and professionally and that the proper procedures were followed in the best interests of the mother and her babies”.

Mrs Grant said: “I must congratulate all the staff working on the front line in this case. They had a difficult job and did their very best for the mother and her babies.”

Previously, at First Minister’s Questions, Mrs Grant told Nicola Sturgeon the woman had bravely shared her experience of giving birth under the current maternity provisions in Caithness.

After going to Caithness General Hospital, the mother was informed that she would have to go to Inverness by road ambulance, a trip of over 100 miles and taking over two hours.

Mrs Grant told the First Minister: “Halfway into that journey they had to stop at a community hospital in Golspie when the first twin was born breech. The air ambulance was then tasked but because it would take two hours to arrive the first twin would be sent by road to Inverness.

“The helicopter could not land, another air ambulance was tasked, but this would take too long and therefore a second ambulance resumed the journey to Inverness where the second twin was born. Thankfully after a prolonged stay in hospital all are now doing well.

“However, it begs the question why was the air ambulance or emergency retrieval team not tasked initially for airlifting the mum from Caithness?

“Will the First Minister investigate this and will she make sure that the air ambulance treats situations like this as a priority?”

Ms Sturgeon promised to investigate and conveyed her good wishes to the family. She said she could not answer immediately as to why the air ambulance was not initially tasked but she asked the health secretary, Jeane Freeman, to look into the matter.

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