An independent review to examine how Moray’s maternity services can be restored to full strength has been commissioned by the Scottish Government.
Most families have been forced to travel to Aberdeen or Inverness to give birth since a staffing crisis triggered a temporary downgrade in June 2018.
NHS Grampian has currently paused efforts to restore services to Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin due to the coronavirus pandemic with work due to resume again in the spring amid concerns of stalled progress.
Campaign group Keep Mum says the review is “exactly what we have been campaigning for” while NHS Grampian has described it as a “positive move”.
Review will consider views of maternity staff and Moray community
Today the Scottish Government commissioned an independent review to examine how a consultant-led service can be reinstated.
Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “My position hasn’t changed and I remain committed to the reintroduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and sustainable way.
“This independent review will consider, and where appropriate contribute to, the work underway in the Best Start North review, commissioned jointly by NHS Grampian, Highland and the Island boards, to examine the model of maternity and neonatal services in the north that will report later in the year.
“The review will consider all the issues and hear directly from staff at Dr Gray’s and the local community.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has described the commissioning of the report as “very significant” and a “big step” towards restoring services to Dr Gray’s.
The results of the independent review of Moray maternity services, which will be led by NHS Borders chief executive Ralph Roberts, are expected in June.
Mr Roberts said: “I am pleased to be invited to lead this review.
“I am looking forward to working with families and staff in Moray and listening to their views so that a clear way forward for these essential services can be identified.”
Mr Lochhead said: “I hope that this review will ensure our consultant-led service is restored in a safe and sustainable way, and that the vast majority of women are able to once again deliver their babies locally.
“I am delighted that the review will focus on how the service can be restored to help address the view locally that the issue was beginning to drift.
“We need to return to the situation where the vast majority of local women can once again give birth at Dr Gray’s. This is a big step forward for the campaign.”
Birth totals in Moray decreasing during maternity downgrade
Concerns have been raised about a “sense of drift” in efforts to restore the Elgin maternity unit to full strength.
Alternative arrangements had to be put in place this year when heavy snow between Keith and Huntly forced the A96 Aberdeen road to be closed overnight.
During 2020 there were just 178 births at Dr Gray’s, a decrease of 102 in 2019, while 714 were born in Aberdeen, an increase of 96 the previous year.
NHS Grampian has stressed that restoring services to Moray remains a “matter of high priority” despite resources being diverted during the coronavirus pandemic.
The health board’s chief executive Caroline Hiscox has described the independent review as “hugely welcome”.
She added: “We are eager to explore any options for the service identified by the review team and in particular any solutions that will enable us to deliver consultant care safely and sustainably in Elgin.
“This is a positive move forward for our staff and the population of Moray.”
The Scottish Conservatives have also made a manifesto pledge to bring back a consultant-led service to Elgin if successful at May’s Scottish Parliament elections.
Campaign group Keep Mum has praised the commissioning of the report.
Spokeswoman Kirsty Watson said: “We are especially pleased that Ralph Roberts, will consider how a consultant-led service could be reinstated that is safe, deliverable and sustainable and will take into account the views of women, their families, staff and stakeholders.
“He has involvement with NHS Shetland and the Borders – both have good maternity care.
“The Keep Mum campaign will continue to highlight the weaknesses and inequality in the current maternity services in Moray.”
However, the Scottish Conservatives have concerns about whether the independent review will lead to improvements for Moray maternity services.
Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “This seems more like a cynical pre-election ploy to try and win votes rather than resolve the issue.
“I think the people of Moray deserve more than the promise of a review, which is simply a way of kicking this issue into the long grass, when all they want is to see this service restored.”