NHS Grampian yesterday announced plans to restore a full service in the maternity unit at Dr Gray’s Hospital.
The health board came under fire after revealing that services would be downgraded in the child care and women’s departments last summer.
Staff shortages led to new plans being put in place to transfer mums-to-be with medium and high risk pregnancies to hospitals in Inverness and Aberdeen.
Although fewer pregnant women were moved to other medical facilities after two new consultants were appointed in the autumn of last year.
Now health bosses are confident that full services can be restored by the end of this year after bringing in a restructuring programme which will reduce its reliance on junior doctors.
Eight advanced nurse practitioners and three physician associates are currently being trained up to take on new roles at the hospital.
And following the new changes brought in place for the roles of junior doctors, four qualified candidates have shown interest which, if they are appointed, will fill half of the vacant roles.
Changes were introduced to reduce their share of on-call duties and to allow them to spend more of their time on clinical work.
Yesterday Chief officer of Health and Social Care Moray, Pam Gowans, said the future looked much brighter for the Elgin hospital, but stressed that there was still a long way to go.
She said: “We are very optimistic about restoring the services as the basis of the work we have undertaken so far means that it is looking positive.
“By the end of 2019 we will have recruited all the right staff and we can try to get back to the fullest service we can offer.
“The trained nurse practitioners, along with the prescribing pharmacists will help us fill the gap between senior medical staff and junior doctors and the blended workforce will make us more stable.
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“Over the next 10 weeks we will be trying to define the model of care we are looking for and try and get some sort of published plan in August.”
However, maternity campaign group Keep Mum questioned why it had taken the health board so long to work out plans for services to be fully restored.
A spokeswoman for the group said: “Jeane Freeman (Scottish Government health secretary) ordered NHSG to return the unit to a consultant led service on 2nd August 2018 and at the moment the planning to do that has only just started. We need much more of a sense of urgency. Why has it taken so long to get the ball rolling?
“We do acknowledge that there is a staffing problem across the UK but that means that NHS Grampian must come up with radical solutions to the problem .
“For example, if they can’t get junior doctors then employ other staff to take on the role of junior doctors and employ more consultants so there’s a better on-call rota, making Dr Gray’s a more attractive hospital to work in.
“We have repeatedly been told that money isn’t an issue.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said he was reassured that that the health board was taking all appropriate measures to restore safe services at the hospital.
He said: “It was heartening to see a timeline showing that some more services will be restored in August with most services being restored by December.
“I pay tribute to the Keep Mum campaign for keeping up the pressure but also to the staff who are working hard to get both pediatric and maternity services at Dr Gray’s back up and running to the same level as before as quickly as possible against what is a complex and difficult backdrop.
“Hopefully, once services are restored this will bring long term stability to women and children’s services. Retention of staff is just as important as recruitment and I thank the nurses, midwives and doctors for their patience and perseverance when their working environment has been dramatically changed albeit temporarily.”