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Calls for independent review of north maternity services amid claims patient safety is at risk

Health campaigner - and Highland councillor -  Nicola Sinclair.
Health campaigner - and Highland councillor - Nicola Sinclair.

Senior councillors want an “independent” review of the controversial downgrading of maternity services in Caithness amid claims it has left patient safety at risk.

The reform, fiercely opposed by local residents, followed the “potentially avoidable” death of a newborn baby from an e.coli infection 40 hours after her birth in 2015.

A maternity service led by consultant obstetricians has become a “community midwife unit”.

Mothers thought to be at risk of birthing complications must now travel 100 miles to Raigmore in Inverness.

Two far north councillors will seek backing from colleagues at a meeting next week for NHS Highland to review the situation.

In a motion to the full council, independent members Bill Fernie and Matthew Reiss state: “We ask for immediate attention to be given to the many unsatisfactory issues that are evident with the delivery of the new service, be that transport, welfare, expense and accommodation.”

They also call for a forum to establish the “risk” of the new service.

Mr Fernie, who is also chairman of the Caithness Hospital Action Team (Chat) pressure group, said he remained concern about the safety of mothers being transferred to Raigmore.

“There’s still some dispute about the independence of the report produced for NHS Highland and there was no formal public consultation,” he added.

Chat secretary Nicola Sinclair said: “There’s a difference between consulting and just turning up at meetings and dictating what’s going to happen. There’s not enough accommodation – or information about accommodation entitlement.”

Health board chairman David Alston said two external reviews were carried out by nationally recognised experts.

“We don’t believe there was bias in relation to their choice,” he said. “No pressure was put on the external advisors to come to any conclusions in any direction.

“It was on the basis of all the evidence that the board considered the recommendation and made the decision to change to a midwife-led unit. The decision was taken on the grounds of clinical safety – something we cannot reasonably be expected to consult on.”

He was “puzzled” by the request to set up a forum because a January meeting attended by both councillors heard that NHS Highland was in the process of setting up such a body to consider transport and accommodation.

It had its inaugural meeting earlier this week.

An independent chairman is to be appointed.

The Scottish Ambulance Service declined to comment yesterday.

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