Scotland’s women’s health minister says the return of a consultant-led maternity unit in Moray – which was downgraded four years ago – “is not possible overnight”.
SNP minister Maree Todd was responding to serious concerns about the lack of progress in restoring maternity care at Dr Gray’s in Elgin.
Local campaigners fear a tragedy is waiting to happen while most women continue to be sent to Aberdeen or Inverness instead.
They say their “patience is wearing thin” four years on – with at least two Moray women forced to give birth off the side of the A96 in the last six months.
The Highlands politician is also facing pressure in her own Caithness area where women have to endure 200-mile roundtrips to Inverness to give birth.
Maternity and women’s health services at Caithness General Hospital were downgraded in 2016 on safety grounds, and there have been calls for an independent review.
In an interview with the Press and Journal, Ms Todd said she was “very aware” of the debate in her own constituency.
She admitted the challenges are experienced “all over rural Scotland” and said “there’s more work to be done”.
‘Not possible’ claim
Asked if action is being taken quick enough in Moray, Ms Todd said: “It’s not possible overnight to bring in a service here.
“One of the challenges in Moray, for example, as well as an obstetrics service, there needs to be other back-up services.
“I think initially the service fell down because of a lack of paediatric care. I think now there are challenges with physicians and anaesthetics so we have to be absolutely confident that all of the disciplines that are needed to deliver an obstetrics led service are there.”
Kirsty Watson, from the Keep Mum campaign group in Moray, hit back saying she knows it’s not something to be fixed overnight.
She added: “The unit in Moray was downgraded four years ago and over that period there has been a considerable amount of talk and promises with very little clear planning or actions taken, which is disappointing.”
Ms Watson said: “Patience is wearing thin in Moray, while women and their families continue to experience anxiety and difficult pregnancies and birth stories.
“We require a deeper understanding on what is being done and why, before we can just silently accept ‘it won’t happen overnight’.”
The campaign group is pushing the government and NHS Grampian for answers on why the timescales are “so very long”, after they failed to rule out a 10-year wait.
Caithness services ‘gone backwards’
Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat MP Jamie Stone raised concerns at Westminster about the support offered from the Scottish and UK governments.
He said services in his Caithness constituency have “gone backwards”.
He added: “Public services are at an all time low.
“Expectant mothers are having to make a treacherous journey to access the most basic of healthcare and they are being completely neglected by these distracted governments.”
Ron Gunn, chair of Caithness Health Action Team, said women face risks travelling so far.
“It’s all very well people saying they will look into it but we need action,” he said.