The Scottish Conservatives’ shadow health minister believes it is time to “step back and rethink” how health services are run across Moray and the Highlands.
Concerns have been raised in recent years about declining maternity services in Elgin, Lochaber and Caithness with families forced to endure longer journeys for births.
Meanwhile, doubts persist over the future of some community hospitals due to staffing concerns in rural areas.
Yesterday the Scottish Government stressed all NHS boards were required to keep services under regular review while a new hospital opened in Orkney in 2019 with more facilities under construction in Broadford on Skye and Aviemore.
‘Urgent review needed of all Highlands health services’
Donald Cameron believes “sticking plasters” are no longer viable, instead calling for an urgent review of all facilities across the north.
The Highlands and Islands MSP said: “It’s quite clear to me that we need to step back and decide what kind of health service is required for communities in the north of Scotland.
“If communities are to be sustainable, local people require assurances that the treatment they require will be close to home.
“People in remote locations in the Highlands and islands have always understood that they may have to travel, especially for specialist treatment.
“But towns like Forres, Elgin, Wick, Thurso, and Fort William are not remote locations and people need a properly functioning general hospital with an adequate range of services that is within reach.”
Mr Cameron believes many community hospitals have proven their worth during the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing vaccination programme.
Many across the north face an uncertain future with the Leanchoil Hospital in Forres closing in 2018 with campaigners currently plotting an alternative future for the building.
There has also been service reductions in Dufftown and Aberlour while the NHS has longer-term aims of treating more people at home.
Maternity doubts putting ‘enormous pressure’ on health services
Mr Cameron believes maternity services across the Highlands are essential as part of any health services rethink.
His comments come just days after Moray mothers were prevented from travelling to Aberdeen to give birth due to road closures as a result of winter weather.
Mr Cameron said: “Whether it’s travelling from Lochaber to Raigmore simply for a routine scan, or needing to go the 75 miles from Moray to Aberdeen to give birth since Dr Gray’s in Elgin was downgraded, the current set up creates additional anxiety for many expectant parents.
“The situation is also putting enormous pressure on NHS staff and the ambulance service.
“It’s not uncommon for midwives to end up travelling in ambulances with women in the last stages of labour, being followed by anxious relatives, at night along wintry roads in danger of closure because of snow and ice.
“How on earth, can that make sense?”
Work already underway on reviewing rural health services
The Scottish Government has stressed all NHS boards are required to ensure services meet national guidelines.
Meanwhile, the Best Start North initiative to examine the development of sustainable maternity services across the NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and island regions will resume again in the spring after being paused due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A spokesman added: “We also continue to work with the maternity transport group as part of the Best Start programme, which examines transport of pregnant women and newborn babies.
“As part of that expert group’s work, specific consideration is also being given to the pathways and protocols for remote and rural transfer across Scotland.
“Clearly, a major focus over the last year has been on the emergency response to the pandemic, and NHS staff in the Highlands and Island – as across the whole of Scotland – have shown magnificent commitment and professionalism throughout.”