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Urgent action needed after twins are born 52 miles apart


By Gordon Calder

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Lawson Memorial Hospital, Caithness Health Action Team, NHS Highland, NHS
Lawson Memorial Hospital, Caithness Health Action Team, NHS Highland, NHS

A CALL has been made for the Scottish Government to act on maternity provision in Caithness after a mother gave birth to twins at hospitals 52 miles apart.

Local MP Jamie Stone described what happened as "a fiasco" and "shameful" and said it was time First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her cabinet took action to deal with the situation.

Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant raised the matter in the Scottish Parliament, while Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) said the case highlighted the maternity problems in the far north.

Mr Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, said: "No woman should have to face this when giving birth. It is shameful that it has taken a fiasco like this for the Scottish Government to sit up and take notice.

"Thankfully, the mother and both babies are healthy and we must thank the local NHS staff for their excellent work.

"However, this is a situation that neither the mother nor the staff should have been put in and we desperately need action from the Scottish Government.

"Geography and distance should not be something expectant mothers have to deal with and the government must accept that no-one should lack access to health services simply because of where they live."

He spoke out after the woman's ordeal was made public. She went to Caithness General Hospital in Wick in November after her waters broke when she was 30 weeks pregnant.

It was decided she should go by ambulance to Raigmore in Inverness, over 100 miles away, to have her babies.

But as she was near Golspie, her contractions became stronger and she was taken to the local community hospital, the Lawson Memorial, where she gave birth to a boy.

A helicopter was then to take the woman to the Highland capital but was unable to land due to frost on its propellers so she made the rest of the journey by ambulance and gave birth to the second twin.

Labour's Rhoda Grant raised the case in parliament and claimed the air ambulance should have been called when the woman went into labour.

She asked: "It begs the question why was the air ambulance or emergency retrieval team not tasked initially to airlift 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?"

Nicola Sturgeon promised to investigate and asked Scotland's health secretary, Jeane Freeman, to look into it.

Bill Fernie, the chairman of Chat, said the case highlighted the group's concerns about mothers having to travel to Inverness to give birth.

"Fortunately, we have not had a tragedy yet and hopefully we never will – but this underlines the fears we have had since the changes were made to the local maternity unit. There has been no risk assessment for the people who have to travel to Raigmore to have their babies.

"There has never been a problem with care at Caithness General or Raigmore, but mothers here should get the same kind of access to treatment as they get in the cities and we used to have here. Why in an emergency can't the experts be on call to come to Wick rather than the other way round?

"I hope this Scottish Government investigation comes up with some solutions to this whole problem."

NHS Highland said an internal review will be carried out to consider the specific circumstances of this case.


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