An independent review of maternity services in Moray will now not be published until November – months later than the initial June estimate.
The birthing unit at Elgin’s Dr Gray’s Hospital was temporarily downgraded in June 2018 amid a staffing crisis.
Initially the step was only supposed to last a year, but the service has still not been able to be restored to full strength.
Meanwhile, families have been forced to endure trips to either Aberdeen or Inverness to give birth.
Campaigners say they appreciate that compiling the report is a “massive exercise”.
However, concerns have been raised that the delay could force families to endure another winter of lengthy journeys to give birth.
Why has the Dr Gray’s maternity review been delayed?
The independent review of Moray maternity services was commissioned in March by the Scottish Government to examine how the unit can be restored to full strength.
Since then, the team has been speaking to people affected and gathering experiences from patients and staff about the temporary downgrade.
Ralph Roberts, chairman of the review team, who is also chief executive of NHS Borders, explained the conversations have been “crucial” to the process.
However, he said it would now take time to consider the material before making recommendations.
Mr Roberts said: “The report is likely to be published later in the autumn. While this may be later than some people may have anticipated, the review process has gathered a high volume of material as well as feedback from the public and staff.
“It is imperative that we as a review team ensure that the report offers a clear direction and way forward for all stakeholders, with well-thought through recommendations that support a model of maternity services that is safe, deliverable, sustainable and high quality for people and staff living and working in Moray.”
What has been the reaction to the delay?
When the review was announced campaign group Keep Mum said the process was what they had been campaigning for.
A website statement from the group after the delay was confirmed said it intended to keep up the pressure to reduce anxiety for mothers-to-be.
It added: “Keep Mum appreciates that compiling and writing the report is a massive exercise and we look forward to reading the published report in the autumn.
“All of Moray is eager to hear the conclusions of the review team.”
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has welcomed the high volume of submissions being considered by the review team.
He said: “I think this shows just how important this service is to people in Moray and the strong affection people have for Ward 3.
“Although pressure on NHS services due to the pandemic has caused some delay, I’m glad we now have clarity as to when the report will be completed and recommendations sent to ministers.
“I hope we will then have a clear way forward as to how a consultant-led maternity service can be restored at Dr Gray’s Hospital.”
However, Moray MP Douglas Ross called for more urgency in the process.
He said: “While everyone accepts the pressures within the NHS, this review was set-up during the pandemic so Covid has featured throughout the time the programme team has been looking at it.
“I hope the review team can deliver the report as soon as possible so the findings can be acted upon urgently.
“If it now won’t even go to ministers until November it seems that Moray families face another winter of having to travel to Aberdeen rather than having a local service.”