Home   News   Article

Report finds Caithness women are ‘scared and anxious’ over access to healthcare


By Alan Hendry

Register for free to read more of the latest local news. It's easy and will only take a moment.



Click here to sign up to our free newsletters!
From left: Claire Clark, Rebecca Wymer and Kirsteen Campbell, of North Highland Women’s Wellbeing Hub, at the group’s Health and Wellbeing Festival held in Wick in June. Picture: Tracey Inkson
From left: Claire Clark, Rebecca Wymer and Kirsteen Campbell, of North Highland Women’s Wellbeing Hub, at the group’s Health and Wellbeing Festival held in Wick in June. Picture: Tracey Inkson

Women and children in Caithness are being put “at risk” by the present level of healthcare provision, according to a new report by a national body.

The Scottish Women’s Convention (SWC) found that travelling long distances to access vital care “actively worsens health and wellbeing outcomes”, especially for expectant mothers and babies.

Responses gathered locally suggested newborn babies were being placed “in precarious positions” as a result of centralisation of services. Women admitted that travelling to and from Inverness often made them feel “frightened, scared and anxious” and contributed to stress while undergoing medical treatment.

The report, which will go to the Scottish Government, identifies a need for “improved healthcare services for women in Wick and the Highland area”.

The SWC works with women in Scotland to ensure their voices are included across decision-making processes. Its 14-page report follows on from a visit to Wick as part of a roadshow tour.

After a private feedback session in a local community space, the SWC team spoke to people from across the county who attended last month’s Health and Wellbeing Festival run by North Highland Women’s Wellbeing Hub (NHWWH) in Wick High School.

The report states: “Healthcare in Wick and the surrounding areas remains a key issue for women, with obstetrics highlighted as a subject of particular concern. Women provided instances of long journeys to Inverness while in labour, babies born in A&E departments and a lack of suitable pain relief, culminating in traumatic birthing experiences.

“Women believed that there had been a significant increase in the number of caesarean sections and induced labour, with data from Public Health Scotland reinforcing their views.

“As outlined by NHS Highland, women should be free to choose where they give birth, with a midwife assisting in decision-making, with this being found to have a positive impact on the birthing experience. However, women do not feel that they are empowered to make their own birthing choices, creating plans which are rarely stuck to, worsening their overall wellbeing.

“This again was accounted to a reduction in local services, with the onus being on travelling to Inverness throughout their pregnancy, as well as during labour. Women strongly believed that there should be improved maternity services for Wick and the surrounding areas, which are local and person-centred to ensure healthy and non-traumatic experiences.

“As well as insufficient care for mothers, women proposed that babies were also being let down... They explained that the centralisation of services which resulted in mothers travelling to Inverness to give birth meant that newborn babies were being placed in precarious positions.

Journeys to Raigmore actively worsen health and wellbeing outcomes, according to the SWC report.
Journeys to Raigmore actively worsen health and wellbeing outcomes, according to the SWC report.

“It has been estimated that newborns should not travel for long periods in a car seat, potentially causing adverse cardiorespiratory effects, with further research required.”

Women also told the SWC that gynaecological care was poor, highlighting their experiences with endometriosis.

“Overall, women believed that gynaecological care in the Wick region required overhaul, with a return to local services, as well as improved training for primary care professionals,” the report states.

On mental health, the report says: “Women are experiencing traumatic pregnancies, for example, travelling long distances during labour to Raigmore Hospital or being forcibly induced. Women believed that the lack of dignity and increased levels of stress experienced by pregnant mothers in the region contributed to poor mental health, and in some cases had caused post-traumatic stress disorder.”

Addressing concerns about travelling on the A9, women believed that “improved local health services were needed to mitigate potential disaster”.

The report adds: “Overall, the current transport situation… does not enable women to feel safe in their local area and when travelling to Inverness for essential healthcare.”

It also identifies “an increased risk of healthcare-induced poverty”, with the cost of travel to and from Inverness seen as “a barrier to treatment”.

Women also raised the issue of depopulation, believing that poor healthcare provision “actively contributed” to this.

Referring to “the healthcare crisis” in the area, the report states that women “showed significant resilience, but their frustration was obvious”. Some felt their fundamental human rights were being eroded.

A discussion in progress at last month’s NHWWH Health and Wellbeing Festival in Wick High School. Picture: Tracey Inkson
A discussion in progress at last month’s NHWWH Health and Wellbeing Festival in Wick High School. Picture: Tracey Inkson

The report adds: “To conclude, the current healthcare situation witnessed in Wick and the surrounding region is placing women and children at risk. The long journey women must travel in order to access vital care actively worsens health and wellbeing outcomes, particularly expectant mothers and babies.

“Additionally, women demanded that their health needs were taken seriously by decision-makers, with the lived impact of policy and change placed front and centre, over budgets.”

The SWC has come up with eight key recommendations. The first is to “re-establish comprehensive maternity services within Caithness General Hospital as part of the current redesign process, to provide local care for women and babies”.

Another involves improving education for medical professionals around gynaecological conditions, while further recommendations include increased financial support for those travelling to Inverness for medical treatment and taking a human rights-based approach to healthcare provision in rural areas.

NHWWH chairperson Kirsteen Campbell said: “Over the festival weekend we continually heard from local women about the severe lack of choice they are faced with. Repeatedly women talked about fear, trauma and suffering.

“That’s not good enough in Scotland in 2024. We have the right to sexual and reproductive healthcare that is available within safe physical and geographical reach.”

NHWWH is awaiting a report from the Scottish Human Rights Commission in the late autumn.

Healthcare leaflets at the recent NHWWH Health and Wellbeing Festival. Picture: Tracey Inkson
Healthcare leaflets at the recent NHWWH Health and Wellbeing Festival. Picture: Tracey Inkson

Do you want to respond to this article? If so, click here to submit your thoughts and they may be published in print.



This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies - Learn More