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Moray is getting an independent review into maternity services, so why can’t we?

Ron Gunn, vice-chairman of Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT), has asked why an independent inquiry has not been conducted in Caithness
Ron Gunn, vice-chairman of Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT), has asked why an independent inquiry has not been conducted in Caithness

Health campaigners are calling on the Scottish Government to deliver an independent review into maternity services in Caithness.

An independent review of maternity services in Moray is under way after services were downgraded in 2018.

There is no similar review happening in the far north and the Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) wants to know why.

The group is arguing that their issues came to a head years before they did in Moray.

‘The people of Caithness had no say in the change’

Chat has been campaigning for more than five years and is requesting a study of their own.

Similar calls were made by the group back in 2019.

Vice-chairman Ron Gunn said: “The people of Caithness had no say in the change.

“There has been a gradual decline in the number of Caithness women giving birth since 2018. We believe this is a direct result of the downgrading of facilities.

“Experts have also delivered their views on the issues Caithness mums face.”

‘They did not have the full crucial medical data’

Dr James Bingham, a former senior consultant obstetrician in Raigmore’s maternity unit, previously outlined the dangers of scaling back the service.

Mr Gunn added: “Dr Bingham warned that the distance and transfer times involved in the 100-mile-plus journey were considered unsafe and placed mothers in danger.

“He also conveyed fears that Raigmore’s maternity and gynaecology unit could not cope with the extra Caithness admissions.

“Dr Bingham advised the health board that they simply did not have the full crucial medical data to make a decision on change.

Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Picture by Gordon Lennox

“The Public Health Review had carefully examined evidence of suboptimal care and adverse effects.

“But it did not examine cases where adverse outcomes for women or babies were saved by the presence of obstetric specialists in Caithness.”

A private NHS Highland board meeting discussed Dr Bingham’s concerns, according to Mr Gunn.

He added: “Although aware of his concerns, not one board member acknowledged his statements at the subsequent public meeting.

“The board minutes stated there were ‘no clinical objections’ to the proposals.”

Moray has an independent review, so why can’t we?

Mr Gunn is now requesting an independent review into maternity services in Caithness, similar to the one under way in Moray.

Former health secretary Jeane Freeman commissioned the Moray review back in March.

The Elgin maternity unit was downgraded in 2018 amid a staffing crisis.

It left many mothers facing lengthy journeys to Aberdeen and Inverness to give birth.

The review, led by Ralph Roberts, heard from members of the local community and affected mothers.

Mr Gunn added: “Following the debate about Dr Gray’s Maternity Unit, Chat are seeking an independent review of Caithness maternity services.”

Some mothers face a journey of more than 100 miles from Caithness to give birth.

Moray review will also shape maternity services in the Highlands and Islands

Births at Caithness General Hospital have declined by more than 90% between 2015 and 2020.

The overall number of births registered to mothers across the county has dropped by 110, when compared to the 266 recorded in 2015.

A Scottish Government spokesman said they expect all health boards to provide maternity services that are delivered as close to home as possible.

NHS Grampian, Highland and the health boards have commissioned the Best Start North review.

The spokesman added that the review will develop “the best possible sustainable model for the future”.

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