NHS Grampian has been urged to set a timetable to restore maternity services at Dr Gray’s Hospital amid concerns about the number of women giving birth elsewhere.
Figures show 178 babies were delivered at the Elgin unit during 2020 – a decline of 102 from the previous year due to elective caesareans being ceased locally.
Meanwhile, the number of Moray women giving birth in Aberdeen increased by 96 during the same period to 714 – more than four times the number delivered locally.
Concerns of ‘sense of drift’ in Dr Gray’s maternity restoration efforts
NHS Grampian has stressed that resuming efforts to restore the hospital to full strength following the coronavirus pandemic remains “a matter of high priority”.
However, Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has concerns about a “sense of drift” in restoring a timetable for restoring a consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray’s after receiving a written update about the ongoing situation.
He said: “The community is running out of patience given the lack of progress in reinstating a full consultant led maternity service at Dr Gray’s with more and more local women having to travel to give birth in Aberdeen.
“There is a clear sense of drift and, although everyone recognises that the NHS is focussed on Covid right now, this letter was a missed opportunity to lay out a firm timeline for action and to give a strong and unshakeable commitment to ensuring that the vast majority of women are able once again to have their babies at Dr Gray’s.”
Mr Lochhead has said he intends to hold talks with the Scottish Governments health secretary Jeane Freeman to urge her to intervene and establish a “robust timetable”.
The Elgin maternity unit was downgraded nearly three years ago amid a staffing crisis.
Work expected to begin examining future of maternity services in spring
NHS Grampian expects work to examine maternity services across the north and north-east to resume in the spring with potential options ready for the summer.
Tim Eagle, leader of Moray Council’s Conservative group, has concerns the lack of a timetable to restore maternity services at Dr Gray’s is having a wider impact – describing the large reduction in local births as “outrageous”.
He said: “Local paramedics have contacted me to raise concerns about the pressures on transfers to Aberdeen and the risks that are being taken.
“We need to restore services to Dr Grays, NHS Grampian must restore a full consultant-led maternity service now and work towards any upgrades they wish to see when that becomes possible.
“It was never acceptable, in my mind, to propose a huge change to the service when that was unlikely to be achievable to deliver.”
In a letter to Mr Lochhead, NHS Grampian chief executive Caroline Hiscox said she was “absolutely committed” to establishing a “safe and sustainable” maternity service in Elgin.
She said: “It is my absolute intention to revitalise this work as a matter of high priority as we move into our recovery stages of living with Covid, subject to the course of the pandemic.
“It is likely, but by no means certain given the unpredictability of the pandemic, that we will recommence this work in spring and deliver appraised service model options across the north of Scotland in the summer of 2021.”