Health campaigners in Elgin have called for a renewed focus to restore all maternity services to the region amid warnings it could be April before a plan is ready.
NHS Grampian had intended to have a blueprint to bring back consultant-led care to Dr Gray’s Hospital ready for November.
Management have now warned it will likely be spring before a strategy is ready due to the focus on the coronavirus pandemic.
Pledges have been made that NHS staff assigned to restoring maternity services at Dr Gray’s will be returned to the task “as soon as possible” after being reassigned to combat the virus.
Long-term staffing issues eventually reached crisis point in 2018 with only routine births being undertaken in Elgin and others being transferred to Aberdeen and Inverness.
Campaign group Keep Mum has said it is sympathetic to the delays as health staff have battled Covid pressures.
Spokeswoman Kirsty Watson, however, believes a renewed focus to restore all maternity services in Elgin is needed.
By April, it will be nearly three years since the initial downgrade. It was initially expected to last just 12 months.
Ms Watson said: “We have the utmost respect for the NHS and the additional workload they have had to deal with in light of the pandemic.
“At our last update meeting, just prior to lockdown, we were told there had been no progress towards restoring specialist care in Elgin.
“Therefore, it is hard to believe NHS Grampian would be any further forward without Covid.
“It will not be palatable to the people of Moray if the solution presented is to transfer women to Inverness instead of Aberdeen. That is still too far when you are in labour.”
Families being transferred to Aberdeen
NHS Grampian statistics show that in June 2018, the final full month before downgrade, there were 79 births at Dr Gray’s.
Meanwhile, recent figures published by the health board showed just 11 babies were born at the hospital in November 2020.
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead has also called for “real progress” during 2021 to ensure there is still a focus on Elgin maternity services ahead of and beyond the latest April estimate.
He said: “It’s important for the Moray community that both NHS Grampian and Scottish ministers continue to reiterate that, despite the ongoing delays and challenges, the commitment to the restoration of the service remains cast iron.
“It is vital that despite the understandable focus on Covid at the moment, real progress is made in 2021 with maternity and children’s services.
“I know the NHS is working with NHS Highland to look at the challenges facing maternity services in the wider region and this could involve consultants working between Raigmore and Dr Gray’s, for instance, to help plug the gap.
“Even though this could be helpful, it should only be seen as an interim measure while the bigger plan is taken forward.”
Staff members to be reassigned after Covid
NHS Grampian is currently taking part in the Best Start North programme, which is examining how maternity services can be delivered differently across its area, as well as the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.
Frontline midwives from Elgin are involved in the discussions, which encourage women to tell their own stories of labour now and in the past.
An NHS Grampian spokesman said: “Much of our staff involved in the planning and development of Best Start North and other important work have been temporarily reassigned to support urgent Covid related work, such as test and protect, winter planning, vaccination programmes and staff health and wellbeing.
“These members of staff will be reassigned to their original work as soon as is possible.”