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NHS Highland faces more questions over birth of twins 50 miles apart

NHS Highland faces more questions over the birth of twin boys 50 miles apart after admitting the experience was “unusually stressful” for the mother.

A health board report acknowledged the mother’s ordeal but insisted “proper procedures” were followed when one baby was delivered in Golspie and the other in Inverness.

Health campaigners and politicians last night demanded a risk assessment into transporting pregnant women to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and raised concerns about the role played by air ambulances.


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An edited version of NHS Highland’s Significant Adverse Event Review (SAER) was given in a letter by health board chief executive Iain Stewart to Highlands and Islands MSP Rhoda Grant.

The SAER said staff behaved “appropriately and professionally” in the best interests of the mother, who endured a 100-mile ambulance journey from Caithness General Hospital, Wick.

Staff had shown “good team work” in “difficult circumstances”.

But it had been impossible to send medics from Inverness to Wick, because that would have left Raigmore without obstetric and paediatric cover.

Ms Grant said she was concerned Mr Stewart only gave a “passing reference” to Specialist Transport and Retrieval (SCOTSTAR), a national service to transfer patients by road and air and questioned why SCOTSTAR had not been called in.

A helicopter had been scrambled when the mother was en-route from Wick, to Inverness earlier this year.

But the attempt to airlift her to Raigmore was abandoned because frost on the propellers meant the helicopter was unable to land.

The ambulance stopped at Golspie Hospital for the first birth before resuming its journey to Inverness.

Mr Stewart’s letter noted that “depending on the circumstances, air transfer may not be the safest or quickest way” to transport mothers-to-be.

He added: “It is important to point out that the air ambulance helicopter is a highly unsuitable environment for the delivery of a baby.”

Mrs Grant said: “His answer begs the question – what is a suitable environment for pregnant women to be airlifted to hospital in an emergency and why was the helicopter called in this case if it was so unsuitable?”

“There must be a full risk assessment carried out on what transport can be used and when and what craft is suitable for airlift in emergencies with pregnant women.”

Ron Gunn of the Caithness Health Action Team said: “People in Caithness believe there should be review of transporting pregnant women to Inverness.”

The timeline

Four years ago, Caithness General Hospital in Wick was placed on “enhanced monitoring” because of a lack of senior staff.

In 2016, it was announced that the maternity hospital would be downgraded to a midwife-led unit, meaning any complicated births would require a long journey to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, two-and-a-half hours away.

September 2016

Emma Edwards from Wick had her baby daughter’s head sliced during a cesarean section at Raigmore.

The mother’s waters broke in the car on the way to Inverness.

September 2017

Thousands of postcards from members of the public protesting about health services moving from Caithness to Inverness were gathered by Chat.

The 2,410 postcards carried the slogan “100 miles too far” in reference to the 100-mile journey patients frequently have to travel to receive care.

November 2017

A report revealed that 91% of births by Caithness women took place more than 100 miles away in Inverness throughout the year.

Of the births at Raigmore Hospital, 112 were classed as “normal” while 72 were either emergency or elective cesarean sections – while another 15 were classed as instrumental.

The report found that 55 women made the journey in their own transport while 22 went by ambulance, and four were airlifted.

March 2018

Health chiefs were forced to request a snow plough escort to transport a sick three-week-old baby down the A9 in treacherous weather conditions.

Tiny Mollie made the 110-mile mercy dash with her mother Carly Sutherland from Caithness General to Inverness.

April 2018

A Caithness woman had to make an eight-hour journey to give birth 260 miles from home because there was no specialist cot available at Raigmore Hospital.

Emma Moffat’s baby Harrison arrived five weeks earlier than expected, when there were no cots available in Raigmore.

The 28-year-old was sent all the way to Livingston, near Edinburgh, for a cesarean section.

November 2018

A new group to represent the interests of Caithness mums-to-be was formed.

Chat4Mums was launched to help pregnant women overcome the problems faced by the 100-plus mile trip down the A9, and the group provides pain relief devices and “survival kits” for those on the journey.

May 2019

Chat predicted that the far north economy is losing out by as much as £12 million a year as a result of the daily exodus of patients heading down the A9 to get treatment at Raigmore.

It estimated that people from its area are clocking up three million miles on the 11,000 trips a year they are making.

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