Health campaigners are fundraising to build a legal case on the state of maternity care provision for women in Caithness and its effect on their human rights.
Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) has hired a lawyer for advice on the feasibility of winning a case, which would focus on the distances which pregnant Caithness women have to travel around Scotland to get a place in a hospital.
NHS Highland’s decision to change from an obstetric to midwife-led maternity unit in Caithness early last year following a review which was triggered by the avoidable death of a baby in 2015.
Only expectant mothers deemed at “low risk” are able to give birth locally, but the latest figures show that more than 90% of pregnant women travelled from Caithness to give birth at Raigmore Hospital last year.
The Press and Journal revealed last week that Wick mother, Emma Moffat, was sent on a 520-mile round trip to Livingston to give birth to baby Harrison on April 2 because there were no cots available at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness.
In March, a snow plough was drafted in to escort an ambulance carrying a mother and a sick three-week-old baby through snowdrifts between Wick and Inverness.
Yesterday, Chat chairman Bill Fernie said: “The alternative model does not appear to be any safer and to us that is a disgrace.”
Spokesmen for both NHS Highland and Scottish Government said that last year, out of the 2,011 women who delivered in Raigmore Hospital, just 12 women had to make use of neonatal facilities outside of the the board area.
The NHS Highland spokesman acknowledged that the downgrading of maternity services in Wick can be an “inconvenience” for some patients but stressed it is a “safer service.”
But Mr Fernie said that Chat is now taking legal advice because the community feels it is not being treated fairly and due to a lack of action.
He said they have already been approached by Crowd Justice – which helps fundraise for legal cases to help families, communities and even countries – which he said would help meet the potential legal fees of tens of thousands of pounds.
Chat has been receiving a lot of donations from local people and organisations towards their funds.
The revelation comes as the health board prepares to host three meetings in Caithness this month concerning a review of healthcare provision in the county.
This follows mass protests in October over fears that beds could be closed at Thurso’s Dunbar Hospital and Wick’s Town and County Hospital as part of a previous review of local services.
‘Sad indictment of the failures’
The controversial downgrading of maternity services at Caithness General Hospital has been the subject of scrutiny from several opposition politicians.
Yesterday, Scottish Conservative MSP Edward Mountain said: “It is a sad indictment of the failures of the management of our NHS that a Highland community are considering legal action to retain access to the services they deserve.
“When it comes to health the SNP Government has a lot to answer for in the Highlands, their policies aren’t working and health in the Highland’s is suffering.”
Yesterday a Scottish Government spokesman said it is vital that all pregnant women, including those in rural locations, receive a “safe and high quality service.”
The spokesman stressed that there may be times, due to medical complications or peaks in demand, that women and babies are required to travel to ensure the best possible care.
One outcome of the downgrading of the Caithness maternity unit has been that facilities and accommodation for families at Raigmore have been improved, and ambulance provision boosted in Caithness with an additional investment of £493,000.