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Plea from north MSPs for 21st century maternity service in Caithness


By Gordon Calder

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Pregnant women in Caithness should have a 21st century maternity service with obstetric and paediatric support to prevent them having to travel to Inverness to give birth.

That was said by Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, at a virtual meeting of the Scottish Parliament's Petitions Committee which was considering a submission lodged by Maria Aitken on behalf of the Caithness Health Action Team (Chat). The campaign group wants a review of maternity services in remote and rural areas.

Many women in the far north have to give birth at Raigmore hospital in the Highland captial following the downgrading of the Wick unit from a consultant to a midwife-led facility a number of years ago.

Mrs Grant was unable to take part in the meeting but, in a statement which was read out to the committee, said: "A total of 90 per cent of Caithness women currently give birth in Raigmore hospital, over 100 miles away in Inverness and that needs to be addressed. There has never been a risk assessment on emergency transfers or indeed on the journeys south that pregnant women face, sometimes in appalling weather conditions."

She said many women are requesting an induction or an elective section so they can plan their journey rather than having the stress and anxiety of making the trip in an unplanned way while in labour. "Transferring women in labour by air to Raigmore and also transferring medical experts into Caithness by air also have their problems which seem insurmountable at the moment," said the MSP.

Mrs Grant added: "The Chat health campaigners, after many years of raising the concerns of parents and their families, are now asking that obstetrics support the Community Midwife Unit at Caithness General to provide a 21st century experience for maternity services in the far north. This would need to have the equivalent paediatric support, something that appears never to have been considered.

"I ask that the committee examine whether obstetric and paediatric support could be put in place at Caithness General and, at the very least, that a risk assessment of emergency transfers takes place."

The committee, which also took evidence at a previous sitting, decided to close the petition, saying the the Scottish Government has "moved to identify a number work streams to tackle the issues raised."

However, the members agreed the problems "were not going to go away and would continue to be highlighted and discussed in the future."

Conservative MSP for the Highlands and Islands, Edward Mountain, urged Chat to continue their fight and re-submit their petition when the Scottish Parliament returns after the May elections.

He criticised the government's lack of action and described its response as being "full of warm words and platitudes"

In his written submission, Mr Mountain said: "Until there is more enlightened use of air recovery teams or the forward deployment of specialist staff to rural hospitals, those who would give birth in Caithness or any other rural hospitals without full maternity services, will feel apprehensive and under increased risk of complications."

After the meeting he said: "The maternity issue isn’t going away just because the petition was closed. I would urge Maria Aitken and her fellow petitioners to continue their campaign. You have my full support and I will always fight to protect local health services."


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