Health secretary Humza Yousaf and public health minister Maree Todd have rejected a request to try out the journey pregnant Caithness mums are forced to make for themselves.
North MP Jamie Stone had invited the duo to experience the conditions faced by pregnant women after years of campaigning brought no action.
Mrs Todd, who is also the constituency MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Ross, confirmed she and the health secretary would not take Mr Stone up on his offer.
Why was the invitation made?
Maternity services in the far north were downgraded in 2016 on safety grounds by NHS Highland.
However, after five years of pushing for change, campaigners have grown fed up at the lack of action.
Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) has called for an independent review into services, similar to the review that has just been conducted in Moray.
The group is also calling for a replication of what they describe as the ‘Orkney model’, where maternity services are led by midwives with the added input from consultants.
In a letter to Mr Stone, Mrs Todd said: “Unfortunately at this time neither myself nor Mr Yousaf are able to join you in a journey between Wick and Raigmore Hospital.”
Mr Stone had suggested the journey be taken in winter to experience all the challenges pregnant women face.
Mrs Todd said a maternity transport group has been formed as part of the national best start programme to examine transport of pregnant women and new-born babies.
She said that their work had been halted due to the pandemic but would “reconvene later in the summer”.
Mr Stone expressed his disappointment at the response from the Scottish Government.
He said: “This is an astonishing response from the minister for women’s health, Maree Todd.
“We all know there are challenges facing rural healthcare delivery, but at the very least we need the Scottish Government to engage with the issues substantively.”
He added that he feels his request was “a perfectly reasonable one” and questions why the Scottish Government has not said if an independent review will be carried out in Caithness.
Five years too late?
He added: “While the establishment of a maternity transport group is welcome, such a group should have been convened five years ago, when the consultant-led service was originally taken away.
“This is a dereliction of duty and responsibility from the Scottish Government that people in the far north will not forget.”
Campaigners have said they are not surprised that the latest offer has been refused.
Ron Gunn, vice-chairman of Chat, said: “We are really disappointed in the response, but we are not surprised.
“It would have been a great opportunity to experience what expectant mothers have to go through.”
‘This does not deter us’
“A sign of an understanding leader would be that they wouldn’t ask people to do things that they are not prepared to do themselves.
“Mr Yousaf is asking expectant mothers to travel over 100 miles to give birth when he is not prepared to experience the journey himself.
“It is not the first time a health minister hasn’t taken on board what we are saying.
“This does not deter us. We are going to continue pushing for equality and fairness.”
Chat has also recently hit out after being excluded from future decisions about Caithness General by NHS Highland.
The group are angered that there is no appeals process and has vowed to petition the Scottish Government.