Health Secretary Jeane Freeman has told NHS Grampian to get back around the table to resolve Moray’s maternity unit crisis.
The maternity service at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin was changed from consultant-led to midwife-led last month, meaning medium and high-risk mums are sent to Aberdeen or Inverness.
The health board – which made the decision to downgrade due to staffing shortages – was tasked with drafting up proposals on how it would safely reinstate the downgraded maternity service, and submitted it to the Scottish Government two weeks ago.
But last night, Ms Freeman revealed she had rejected it, and sent it back for improvements.
She indicated it does not go far enough to guarantee the safety of mothers and babies using the maternity unit.
Ms Freeman said: “I have now reviewed NHS Grampian’s plan for returning a full consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray’s Hospital and have advised the health board that further important improvements are needed to the plan.
“Scottish Government officials are working closely with NHS Grampian to ensure that these improvements are urgently made. Given the importance of this issue to local people we expect the health board to resubmit their plan to the Scottish Government early next week.
“Throughout this process the safety of mothers and babies is of utmost importance and NHS Grampian has stressed that the well-being and care of patients is paramount.”
The downgrade in July was roundly criticised by worried locals and campaign group Keep Mum, who branded the new service “unsafe.”
NHS Grampian will now go back to the drawing board to revise the action plan.
A spokeswoman said they will do their best to incorporate Ms Freeman’s feedback into the next draft of the proposals.
“We received initial feedback from the Scottish Government on the draft plan developed with input from staff, the public and our partners and submitted on August 17th,” she said.
“We are working closely with officials to incorporate their feedback and will provide a further version of the plan to the cabinet secretary early next week.
“We acknowledge there is a lot of work still to be done. We’re keen to press ahead and make progress towards restoring a consultant-led obstetric and paediatric service in Elgin. However, we must be realistic and, given the recruitment challenges we currently face, clearly that will not happen overnight.
“In the short term, we are looking closely at all the services previously offered to identify if there are any we may be able to safely restore as our staffing number gradually improves. In addition, we are also urgently exploring further ways that we can support patients and their families with travel where it is needed.”
Kirsty Watson, from campaign group Keep Mum welcomed the news that Ms Freeman has recommended urgent improvements to the plan.
She said: “I would point out firstly that we did not see the final plan, which was submitted on August 17. We have had no contact with NHS Grampian since the plan was submitted. We therefore have no idea what NHS Grampian is thinking.
“We are encouraged to hear that Jeane Freeman has asked NHS Grampian to make urgent improvements to the plan. We look forward to hearing what these urgent improvements are very soon. We are equally aware of how keen the Moray public are to be kept abreast of how the service will be made safe. Meanwhile, we continue to have a service which Jeane Freeman described as ‘less than ideal’.”