“There’s no space in Aberdeen. We’ll have to ring round to check where we can get you in.”
In those two sentences everything I was mentally preparing for about what the birth of our first child would be like was gone.
For five years Moray families have been conditioned to expect to travel to give birth in Aberdeen due to the Elgin downgrade.
Since then, I had heard stories of a school friend having to be airlifted from Aberdeen to Selkirk due to a lack of capacity, of expectant Moray parents being turned away because they were too busy and spoken to families who have had horrendous journeys on the A96.
In that moment, I thought my wife Laurel and I would be travelling to Edinburgh, Glasgow or even further afield.
However, very quickly the word came back there was space in Inverness for us to have our baby girl Isla, and I’ll always be grateful.
Yesterday NHS Grampian and NHS Highland confirmed maternity plans had been agreed to make Inverness births easier for more Moray families during the Elgin downgrade – I just can’t believe it hasn’t happened sooner.
Inverness is obvious maternity choice for Elgin families for now
With Dr Gray’s in the situation that it is currently in, it should be obvious where Moray families should go.
Dr Gray’s Hospital is only 37 miles from Raigmore, nearly half the 65 miles it is away from Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.
I might be being naive, but I like to think care in our national health service is delivered at the point closest to home and not determined by imaginary lines on a map drawn on a map for bureaucracy purposes.
Our Moray maternity services were downgraded in 2018 and are currently not expected to be restored until 2026.
I can’t believe it has taken five years to agree a system to ensure families can go to the hospital closest to them.
Does maternity map need redrawn?
I’m aware there are other pressures on Raigmore from the rest of the Highlands, particularly from Caithness.
Ultimately the best solution for all is for the hospitals in Elgin and Wick to be restored to the level our communities had come to expect.
But in the meantime, families should expect to be seen closest to home and not just where happens to fall inside a health board boundary line drawn up generations ago.
Our baby girl Isla was nearly a month early and was just 4lb 7oz. I’m fairly confident her need for the neonatal SCBU unit was why there was no space for us in Aberdeen and why our journey took us from Elgin to Inverness.
Driving behind your wife in a blue light ambulance is an out-of-body sensation and not an experience I would recommend.
It’s one I always thought I wanted to do in the middle of the night when the traffic was quiet with less chance of getting stuck behind tractors, but when the time came at 4am I’m not sure if I appreciated it.
I just know I’m glad I got to do it on the flat roads from Elgin to Inverness in the summer, and not the hilly and winding roads from Moray to Aberdeen Maternity Hospital in the winter.
‘I’ll always be grateful to Raigmore staff in Inverness’
In the days before Isla was born, I decided I wanted to try and remember the faces and names of everyone who saw us in hospital for the birth.
My grandmother was a midwife and will still on occasion be stopped by people in the street in Aberdeen who she saw in hospital or afterwards as a health visitor, even despite her now being 86. I wanted to be able to do the same.
However, I was completely overwhelmed by the number of people who helped us in our stay at Raigmore. It was undoubtedly the most humbling experience of my life.
Firstly, Dr Malakar, Roz, Alastair, Mohammed and everyone who was in the operating theatre to help deliver Baby Tindle, as she was known then.
I don’t really know what happened in that room. I’ve decided some things are maybe better not known, but in that moment it felt like you saved my daughter’s life. I’ll never forget it, and I hope every day you appreciate the impact you all have on families.
Also, Leigh, Yvonne, Mel and Sophie who all stayed with us for so long in the labour suite, everyone at SCBU who do an amazing job supporting families in difficult times for some quite extended periods, Mairi, Elaine, Rhona and everyone else on Ward 10, everyone at Dr Gray’s who saw us during our frequent visits and especially our community midwives in Elgin, Julie and Kerry, who looked after us with particularly good humour.
Finally, I thought it would be important to me to have our baby born in Aberdeen. It’s where I and all of my paternal ancestors were born, and I consider it my home.
But I’m so grateful we got to see everyone at Raigmore, and whenever I see Inverness on my daughter’s birth certificate I will think of you all.
David Mackay is a news reporter with the Press & Journal in Elgin and is completely besotted with his baby daughter Isla.