Pregnant women on Skye face a round trip of around 200 miles to Inverness after maternity services at the island’s main hospital were dramatically suspended yesterday.
NHS Highland chiefs blamed a shortage of available midwives at Broadford’s Dr MacKinnon Memorial Hospital for the move, which will last for at least a month.
But politicians hit out at the latest “failure” of health provision on Skye.
MSP Kate Forbes said: “It feels like it has been one thing after another in healthcare on Skye, and I am deeply disappointed by the news of a temporary suspension of birth services at Broadford Hospital.
“I understand that this is due to a staffing shortage and I would like to praise all the staff who are no doubt working harder than ever as a result.
“However, there is no excuse for failing to plan ahead and have contingency plans in place. Thankfully, there are apparently no mothers due to give birth locally over the next month, but that is no excuse for being short staffed.”
She has spoken personally to Health Minister Shona Robison, adding: “She has promised to investigate why this has happened.”
Skye MP Ian Blackford said: “I am staggered at the suspension of maternity service. This is another kick in the teeth to the people of Skye on the back of the threat to health provision at Portree.
“This is absolutely down to a failure of NHS management, or lack of management.
“I am writing to NHS Highland chairman David Alson asking for answers as to why this has happened. It is simply not acceptable.”
NHS Highland said the situation was temporary, but “significant”. The shortage has also affected the out-of-hours midwifery service for the wider Skye and Lochalsh area.
A spokesman for the GMB Union said NHS staff were being “treated unfairly” as the board has “no workable strategic plan” for managing out of out-of-hours cover on Skye.
He added: “The midwife issue highlights this issue yet again. People who live on Skye are getting a second-class service from NHS Highland. This is unacceptable and more evidence of continuing NHS mismanagement.”
The health board said there were currently no women due to give birth at Broadford’s unit or at home, but politicians said this should not defer from the seriousness of the situation.
There are women in the area booked for deliveries at the maternity unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
Sarah McLeod, lead midwife for Skye and Lochalsh, said the shortage of midwives had been caused by unexpected staff absences and vacancies.
She added: “We will be ensuring that local women are made aware of the situation and request that they make earlier contact with Raigmore maternity unit should they require assistance.
“All women currently on the CMU’s caseload will now be contacted by their named midwife and will also be sent a letter clarifying the position.
“Further information will be posted on social media on our dedicated Skye and Lochalsh maternity Facebook page used by both local women and midwives.”
Ms McLeod added: “NHS Highland would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.
“This has been a difficult decision to make and we hope that service users and the local community will understand the reasons for this action.”
In September, catering staff at Portree Hospital had to provide cover at Broadford due to a lack of employees at both sites. Nursing staff at Portree Hospital also agreed to reheat and serve microwaved meals to patients.