Health campaigners have welcomed hospital upgrade works due to begin this week but have warned restoring the maternity unit to full strength must still be the main objective.
NHS Grampian has announced three labour suites will be refurbished alongside a new birthing pool at Dr Gray’s in Elgin.
However, the planned upgrade has come with a warning that mums-to-be will have to remain patient for “significant changes” to local maternity services due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
A staffing crisis forced the NHS to downgrade the unit in summer 2018 after long-term recruitment issues came to a head.
Most pregnant women have since been transferred to Aberdeen or Inverness to give birth while deliveries expected to be routine have continued in Elgin.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has called for hospital recruitment to continue to ensure a timetable can be put in place to restore Dr Gray’s to full strength.
Campaign group Keep Mum has welcomed the planned improvements but said it was “depressing” that so few families will be able to take advantage of them.
Spokeswoman Kirsty Watson said: “The crucial point here is that maternity care is a critical service, yet nothing is being done.
“Why is Covid preventing work being done on the restoration of the unit? Where exactly would we be if Covid hadn’t happened? Would the unit be restored to consultant status by now?
“The current service model is not what women want.
“Sadly, we don’t believe that progress would be any further forward as we believe there is no will to restore a consultant-led service. While we completely understand the issues relating to Covid, it’s a smokescreen in this instance.”
NHS Grampian maintains that developing a sustainable model for maternity services in Elgin remains a priority.
Work on the refurbishments to the Dr Gray’s unit are due to begin today and are expected to be completed in March.
Meanwhile, a programme involving staff from Elgin, Grampian, Highlands and islands has begun to gather stories about birth experiences now and in the past to help shape future models.
Mr Lochhead has also welcomed the upgrades but says families need more information about long-term plans.
He said: “I have no doubt that the local community would have wished for more clarity about the steps being taken to restore the wider maternity services, given that we are approaching yet another winter when women and their families are expected to potentially travel to Aberdeen.
“Covid-19 is of course causing disruption to much of our health service but the recruitment process should be allowed to continue.”
In a social media post, NHS Grampian has encouraged women to speak to their community midwives about individual care concerns.
It adds: “For the time being, labour ward care remains midwife-led.
“NHS Grampian, alongside the rest of NHS Scotland remains on emergency footing due to Covid-19 and although maternity care is a critical service we don’t anticipate making any significant changes to this model of maternity care in the short term.
“The work in Moray maternity services remains a priority for NHS Grampian.”