Campaigners are urging NHS Highland and the Scottish Government to mirror Orkney’s maternity model to ease woes in Caithness.
The Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) is calling on decision-makers to deliver robust services after more than five years of tireless campaigning.
Chat has said the time for talking is over. The group is demanding action is taken to ease the anxieties of expecting mums.
Orkney’s model works well for them, why can’t it work for us?
Chat vice-chairman Ron Gunn believes the model in Orkney could easily be replicated in Caithness.
That would allow mothers in the county to give birth closer to home.
Mr Gunn said: “In 2019, Chat visited the new Balfour Hospital in Orkney. After seeing their maternity unit, we are now campaigning for what we call the ‘Orkney model’.
“This is a community maternity unit led by midwives and supported by obstetricians.
“This maternity model is working extremely well for Orkney mothers and their families. It has been declared safe and meets all of the Best Start Standards.”
Similarities would allow for flawless deployment
Mr Gunn says the comparisons between the two areas would mean it would be simple for the model to be replicated.
He said: “Orkney has a very similar population to Caithness and its birth rate is much the same, at around 200 a year.
“The big difference is that in Orkney 80% of their mums give birth in their hospital.
“The complete opposite occurs in Caithness where 90% have to go to Inverness to give birth.”
The Scottish Government’s Best Start programme states “all mothers and babies are offered a truly family-centred, safe and compassionate approach to their care”.
Mr Gunn said: “How can this be true for Caithness mums when they are separated from their loved ones to go and give birth in Inverness?
“Birth is supposed to be one of the happiest moments for a mother and her family. But how can it be, when she is over 100 miles from home?”
Reinstating services in Wick would allow unit to be used fully
Chat also believes the upgrade of the community maternity unit, which includes a new birthing pool, should coincide with the resumption of full services.
Mr Gunn added: “The unit is run by a very dedicated team and will certainly enhance the experience for Caithness mums-to-be. But unfortunately, the maternity model we have will mean the biggest majority of births will still be in Inverness.”
Edward Mountain MSP, who has long echoed calls from Chat to decision-makers, has said anything that can be done, should be done.
He said: “I would back anything that allowed women in Caithness to safely give birth in Caithness. It is as simple as that.
“I just don’t think it is right taking them a minimum of two hours, sometimes more, from their families to give birth because they are being denied services in Caithness.”
Review will shape future model
A Scottish Government spokesman said they expect all health boards to provide maternity services that are delivered as close to home as possible, but “this has to be balanced with ensuring the safety of mother and baby”.
He added that the Best Start North review, commissioned by NHS Grampian, Highland and the island health boards, will develop “the best possible sustainable model for the future”.
The Scottish Government also welcomed the creation of a new community maternity unit at Caithness General, with an opening date expected soon.