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Action plan to restore services at Moray hospital continues to ‘lack detail’ but will be published next week

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman outside Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman outside Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin.

An action plan detailing how services will be restored to a Moray hospital continues to “lack detail” – despite it being demanded more than three months ago.

NHS Grampian was tasked by the Scottish Government’s Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, with preparing the document when she visited Dr Gray’s in August.

Yesterday, she returned to the hospital to speak to staff and campaigners and said more work still needs to be done to ease the effects of staff shortages despite two drafts having already been submitted.

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However, Ms Freeman stressed “significant work” had been done by the health authority, which has resulted in the amount of births in Elgin doubling over the last two months.

Downgraded maternity service plans branded ‘unsafe’ at Dr Gray’s

The first phase of an action plan, which is expected to detail how services at the hospital can be progressively increased, is now due to be published by the NHS next week.

Ms Freeman revealed that clinicians are examining new ways of using technology for appointments before and after birth.

She said: “It’s a good idea, but what I need them to do is say more about how they are going to go about that.

“The reason I need that is that the plan is going to be public.

“I want anyone in Moray, particularly expectant mums, to be able read that plan and know clearly what they can expect, what is being looked at and when that will occur and what they should expect to go to Aberdeen or Inverness for.

“The more information people have the better they are able to make choices and feel in control of the situation.

“The fewer gaps there are the less people will be able to speculate, which is why I need a bit more detail.”

A second phase of the action plan, which will explain how the full service will be restored, is expected to follow early next year.

When the maternity and children’s services at Dr Gray’s were downgraded in August, NHS Grampian warned that restoring them could take up to a year.

Yesterday, Ms Freeman refused to commit to a date for when she expected the hospital to be back at full strength, describing doing so as a “politician’s trick”, but stressed allowing the current situation to continue permanently was not being considered as an option.

She added: “You can’t go at this from that point of view.

“We’re going at it by saying we’re going to work together and make best use of clinical expertise and experience, then we will work through the solutions to get to a safe and sustainable service.”

Last week, the hospital was given a boost with the news that the recruitment of two locum paediatricians has allowed elective caesarean sections to be booked again.

Yesterday, the health board confirmed the amount of Moray mums giving birth at Dr Gray’s has doubled from 13% in August, when the downgrade was implemented, to 33% last month.

NHS Grampian’s medical director, Dr Nick Fluck, explained “significant progress” has been made in recent months.

He said: “There’s been a lot of work done to make sure that very few women have to travel for their antenatal care.  Hundreds of mums to be are now being seen at Dr Gray’s and in the local community every month.

“We know this has been an unsettling time across the wider community in Elgin, but we are working very hard to make sure Dr Gray’s Hospital has a safe, sustainable and bright future.”

Boost for campaigners

The Health Secretary’s demands for more detail from NHS Grampian about how services will be restored have given a boost to campaigners.

Concerns do, however, remain about the safety of pregnant mum’s travelling to Aberdeen or Inverness to give birth during the winter months.

Last night, Keep Mum member Marj Adams revealed the group had heard more cases of “traumatic” experiences for women in labour being transported to Aberdeen this week.

She said: “We’re encouraged the NHS has been instructed to put more detail into the plan because the drafts we have seen didn’t look like plans at all.

“I appreciate it’s a very complicated issue, but it’s still concerning that there’s no timeline for when the full service can be restored. It would be greatly reassuring to know the dates they have in mind.

“In the meantime, the distressing and traumatic experiences for some parents are continuing, which is a worry.”

Moray MP Douglas Ross described progress made on the restoration of services as “painfully slow”.

He added: “Communication with pregnant mums in Moray has been almost non-existent and I’m worried about the effect this situation has on staff in Dr Gray’s employed in the maternity unit.

“There is a real risk they will be de-skilled and demotivated the longer the service is unavailable in Moray.”

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead added: “We need to see NHS Grampian expedite the finalising of phase one of the plan to reinstate a consultant led service at Dr Gray’s, and we need to see further improvements in order to maintain confidence that they are treating this issue with the urgency that it deserves.”