Pregnant women have joined forces with councillors, health professionals and activists to fight against NHS Highland proposals to downgrade Caithness General Hospital’s maternity unit.
A newborn baby recently lost her life at the hospital after suffering from sepsis, and the NHS investigation named poor communication between Caithness and Raigmore Hospital in Inverness as one of the contributing factors.
The formation of Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) is in response to concerns about the future of the hospital and the state of local health services.
Its immediate priority is to fight proposals to downgrade the maternity unit at Caithness and end the rotation of specialist consultants, resulting in a higher proportion of maternity and surgical patients having to be transferred 100 miles to Raigmore.
Chat will then focus on healthcare provision in Caithness more generally, including Caithness General Hospital, Dunbar Hospital and local GP practices.
The group will campaign for improved local care across key services including paediatrics, orthopaedics, geriatric services and palliative care.
It also plans to raise funds for improved facilities and equipment, and to create a long-term strategy to help attract healthcare professionals to Caithness.
Councillor Bill Fernie, chairman of Chat, said: “There are undoubtedly a number of concerns regarding health services in Caithness. Whilst NHS Highland is trying to change services, there are still issues relating to the number of expectant mothers now travelling to Raigmore and perceived threats to the obstetric services.
“Also the redesign of services at Caithness General has been underway for some time and the number of locums used in the last few years does not lead to confidence in local services.
“This is a grassroots group formed by people from all over Caithness, principally spearheaded by expectant mums. Our early meetings showed there were concerns about a range of health matters in the county, with anything from difficulties in recruitment of consultants and GPs right through to dental services and maternity. The group decided not only to look at maternity but to take on board other issues of concern.”
A spokesman for NHS Highland said: “As we have publically stated many times, it is an absolute priority of NHS Highland to maintain safe services in Caithness. Work is ongoing to determine what will be the most safe and sustainable model for the longer term.
“We are already in discussions with Caithness Health Action Team, and look forward to working with them in the future.”