Maternity campaigners in Moray fear families are being penalised through a “cumbersome and unfair” process to claim expenses from NHS Grampian for Aberdeen births.
The health board has been covering some costs incurred by pregnant women and partners forced to travel during the Dr Gray’s Hospital downgrade, which began in 2018.
However, fears have been raised that potentially hundreds are missing out every year due to the process requiring families to print out forms to post away to receive a cheque through the mail in return with no online option.
Campaign group Keep Mum says the assumption that households have access to a printer raises equality issues – arguing the process shows a “lack of empathy”.
NHS Grampian says families are told about the expenses process by midwives with forms available at Dr Gray’s Hospital and antenatal classes. It has encouraged those who may not be able to pay for travel and accommodation to raise it with staff.
How much money has NHS Grampian paid out to Moray families?
The standard maternity expenses NHS Grampian makes available to Moray families travelling to Aberdeen is £75 per night for a hotel room for a maximum of two nights and up to 130 miles mileage at 14p per mile.
Between the beginning of 2019 and the end of March 2023, NHS Grampian has paid out just over £99,210 to families.
The annual figure has steadily increased from the £7,126.67 paid out in 2019 to £38,015.83 in 2022.
Figures were lower initially with less than 35 out of the 654 Moray births in Aberdeen applying for expenses in the whole of 2019.
Although the total paid out in 2022 has increased to more than five times that amount, 475 of the 664 families that travelled to Aberdeen still failed to claim expenses.
Keep Mum says the process needs to be streamlined with reports from some families who have posted the form several times over a number of years without receiving a reply in the mail.
However, others say they have received a cheque within a month of applying with no issue.
‘Clearly not the NHS free at the point of need’
Keep Mum says it has asked for NHS Grampian to establish an online option to make the maternity expenses process easier for Moray families.
Concerns have also been raised about the cost of finding last-minute hotel accommodation in Aberdeen with NHS Grampian only covering up to £75 per night.
Campaigner Marj Adams said: “The most unsatisfactory aspect of these arrangements is that families have to pay up front. Obviously, not everyone can afford to do this.
“Hotel accommodation is expensive and many people will struggle to fork out money for a hotel. This is clearly not the ‘NHS free at the point of need’.
“We understand that some couples have spent the night in a car because they are not in a position to pay for hotel accommodation. We have repeatedly asked if NHS Grampian can pay for the hotel in advance but have been told that that’s not possible because the NHS financial systems are not set up for this process.
“The process is not streamlined – it is cumbersome and unfair. We’re therefore not surprised that there’s a discrepancy between the Moray birth numbers and the number of claims.”
Next steps in restoring Moray maternity services
A midwife consultant joined the Elgin team in the summer with three new additional senior charge midwives now in post with a project manager and support administrator due to join in the coming months.
Both Moray MSP Richard Lochhead and Moray MP Douglas Ross have pressed for the health board to make the expenses process easier while work is continuing.
Mr Lochhead said: “It is absolutely vital that NHS Grampian is putting adequate support in place for women and families having to travel to Aberdeen to deliver their babies, whilst work is under way to restore consultant led services at Dr Gray’s.
“That means it must be as easy as possible for families to submit claims and those claims should be processed quickly to ensure people aren’t left waiting to get their money back, particularly given we’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis.”
Mr Ross said: “The least expectant mothers deserve for not being able to give birth in their own community is to be compensated for their travel.
“NHS Grampian must ensure that the process is as simple as possible for mums who have applied and that expenses are processed and paid as a matter of urgency.”
NHS Grampian: ‘widely promoted’
A NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: “We remain committed to providing additional support for Moray families while the process of expanding maternity services in the area continues.
“Details of the travel and overnight stay claim processes have been available on our website since last year and were widely promoted by our midwifery team before then.
“We now have an area dedicated to Moray Maternity on our Birth in Grampian website which includes key information, including details of the claims process as well as a link to the national Young Patients Family Fund. This is regularly promoted via our social media channels.”
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