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Maternity cover crisis could stretch Moray paramedics to breaking point

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Concerns have been raised plans to send pregnant women in Moray to Aberdeen or Inverness to give birth would put significant pressure on the alredy strained ambulance service.

Mothers-to-be could face a 60-mile trip while in labour unless two doctors are hired to cover the maternity unit at Elgin’s Dr Gray’s Hospital before the end of the month.

If the NHS recruitment crisis persists, the obstetric unit could be downgraded by August – meaning that only “completely low-risk” births will take place there.

Union bosses have argued that would place an unreasonable strain on already “overstretched” paramedics, as they shuttle expectant mothers to either Raigmore in Inverness or Aberdeen RoyalInfirmary.

The region’s ambulance cover “crisis” was brought sharply into focus last year when teenager Keiran McKandie was fatally struck by a car on the outskirts of Elgin and it took a Tomintoul vehicle 27 minutes to reach him.

And fears have now been raised that if local paramedics are deployed to transfer pregnant women, then ambulances will have to be called from ever-increasing distances to emergencies in Moray.

Last night, the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) could not rule out the area’s paramedics might soon be experiencing an increased workload.

But the NHS stressed that any decision reached would take into account the interests of both organisations – and the people of Moray.

Unite the Union regional officer, Tommy Campbell, said worried paramedics had been in touch with him about the possible move.

He said: “Transfer numbers are rising as it is, and Elgin only has one ambulance for about 16 hours a day.

“The system can’t handle the current numbers let alone a further increase.

“Unite is very concerned about yet another detrimental change to NHS services in the Moray area.

“Staff  are consistently stretched already, so any increase in patient transfer workload cannot be sustained.

“If this change goes ahead it will require additional monies and resources, to ensure ambulance  staff and patient welfare are maintained.”

Moray MSP, Richard Lochhead, has already urged NHS Grampian to “take every step possible” to ensure maternity services in Elgin remain intact.

Yesterday, he highlighted the “already overstretched” nature of Moray’s ambulance cover as a further reason against the health board ordering more patient transfers.

The SNP politician added: “That is the last thing the service needs, the absolute priority must be ensuring that the need for such transfers does not arise.

“Too often, ambulances from elsewhere have to answer calls in Moray because local vehicles are out of the area transferring patients and that creates real risks.

“I’m against any policy change by NHS Grampian that would add to existing pressures.”

Mr Lochhead is due to meet the health board’s chief executive, Malcolm Wright, this week for an update on the situation.

NHS Grampian’s director of acute services, Gary Mortimer, said he is “urgently” seeking solutions to the cover crisis.

He said: “We continue to investigate temporary options for the delivery of services in Moray as a matter of urgency.

“We are wholly committed to maintaining the highest standards of patient care and safety, and people should be assured that those considerations will be at the heart of any decision taken.

“As part of that commitment, we are in regular contact with the SAS to ensure that any solution works for both our organisations, our staff and, most importantly, people across Moray.”​

An SAS spokesman added: “We are committed to maintaining a safe and effective level of cover across Moray, and are continuing to work closely with NHS Grampian to support the delivery of services at Dr Gray’s.”