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'No significant decline' in Caithness birth rate, says NHS Highland


By Alan Hendry

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NHS Highland says the number of births in the community midwifery unit at Caithness General Hospital is comparable with other CMUs across its area.
NHS Highland says the number of births in the community midwifery unit at Caithness General Hospital is comparable with other CMUs across its area.

NHS Highland says there has been "no significant decline" in the Caithness birth rate since the local maternity service began functioning as a midwife-led unit.

The health board confirmed that 90 per cent of births to Caithness women take place in the consultant unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. However, it described the number of babies born in Caithness General Hospital's community midwifery unit (CMU) as comparable with other such units across the area it covers.

The board was responding to concerns voiced by Highland councillor Matthew Reiss.

While Orkney has a full maternity service, he pointed out, with most births taking place locally, Caithness is a "neglected poor neighbour" with the vast majority of its mothers-to-be having to travel to Raigmore.

Councillor Reiss, who represents Thurso and Northwest Caithness, claimed that since the loss of the consultant service in Caithness in 2016 the county's birth rate had dropped by up to 41 per cent. "Not even China achieved such a drop with its one-child policy," he said.

NHS Highland stated: "National reporting shows that Scotland has seen a 9.7 per cent decline in the birth rate for 2020.

"There has been no significant decline in the total births for Caithness women in the years 2017 to 2020 while the service has been functioning as a midwife-led unit.

"The establishment of the midwife-led CMU model in Caithness was originally set up in 2017 on the grounds of safety. Thanks to the hard work and dedication of the midwifery staff in Caithness, the CMU is now fully established with care being provided locally for women throughout the whole pregnancy journey.

"Local birth is an option for women who have low-risk pregnancy. Women with medical or pregnancy complications are referred to Raigmore Hospital, where consultant obstetric and neonatal services are available."

The health board said that 10-12 per cent of births to Caithness women take place in the CMU, with 90 per cent happening in the consultant unit at Raigmore.

It added: "The birth rate for Caithness CMU is comparable to the other CMUs in NHS Highland, where a similar percentage of women travel to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and to Royal Alexandra Hospital in Paisley from Argyll and Bute, for birth in a consultant unit."

Councillor Reiss spoke out as he reiterated his support for local campaign groups Caithness Roads Recovery and Caithness Health Action Team following their announcement that they would be working closely together.


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