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New timetable drawn up for more Moray women to give birth in Elgin

Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

NHS Grampian has set out “ambitious” plans to deliver consultant-led births at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin in four years – if enough staff can be found.

Board papers published on Wednesday finally outline the timetable for reinstating consultant-led care by either the end of 2026 or early 2027.

A lack of junior doctors in summer 2018 led the hospital’s maternity unit to be “temporarily” downgraded from consultant-led to midwife-led.

NHS Grampian say progress is dependent on receiving “additional funding” from the Scottish Government and on recruiting enough extra staff.

Mums sent to Aberdeen and Inverness

The downgrade left most mums facing either a 90-minute trip to Aberdeen or a 60-minute trip to Inverness, depending on road conditions.

Campaign group Keep Mum want to see quicker action and more specific detail on tackling staff pressures.

Marj Adams, a campaigner from the group, said: “We welcome new moves towards the obstetric-led service at Dr Gray’s Hospital and that is our key goal to see the vast majority of Moray women giving birth in Moray and that’s positive.

Marj Adams is a campaigner with Keep Mum. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

“However, we would like to see quicker timescales and we would like to see more detail in the plan, particularly regarding strategies for recruitment.

“We have heard about recruitment strategies before that haven’t come to fruition so we would like to be sure the right people are in jobs to develop the recruitment strategies and put them in place.”

The report to the NHS Grampian board spells out the recruitment challenges still faced by the health board, with the challenge having “not eased since 2018”.

It said: “Retention and recruitment of staff is an issue for the NHS across Scotland and may be intensified in the north, where smaller populations can mean less opportunity for staff to experience variation and complexity in cases.”

The board papers outline plans to launch a £65,000 ‘Wish You Worked Here?’ lifestyle campaign to promote the “wider benefits” of living and working in Moray.

‘Absolutely outrageous’

Moray MP Douglas Ross said it is “hugely disappointing” that consultant-led services will not return for four more years.

He will bring forward a debate in the Scottish Parliament next week to “demand answers” from Health Secretary Humza Yousaf.

The Scottish Tory leader’s wife Krystle was forced to make a 65-mile ambulance dash herself from Elgin to Aberdeen, after experiencing complications during birth.

Mr Ross added: “The reality is that despite the health board’s best efforts to talk up these ‘ambitious’ plans, that the so-called ‘temporary’ one-year downgrade of maternity services will have lasted over eight years if these timescales are met which is absolutely outrageous.”

Douglas Ross with wife Krystle and newborn son James.

The board papers say it is proposed that consultant-led births could take place “as early as the end of 2026 or early 2027”.

The report added: “This is, of course, dependent upon NHS Education Scotland being in a position to supply a sufficient number of trainees to the north of Scotland.”

The NHS Grampian board will consider the report at a special meeting being held on Thursday before the plan’s formal submission to the Scottish Government.

Meanwhile, plans are continuing to move towards an interim model – known as model four – which will see an upgrade to facilities at Raigmore maternity unit in Inverness.

However, clinicians have raised safety concerns over the move, saying it could lead to “overcrowding”.

‘Vast improvement’

Moray MSP Richard Lochhead said the timescales are a “vast improvement” on previous warnings it could take a decade for services to be restored.

He said: “I welcome plans to invest in a new and improved approach to recruitment, which we absolutely need to succeed in order to attract talent to the area to make the service sustainable for the future.

“Coming up with a unique offer to attract key staff to Moray has been something I’ve been calling for over many years, so I am glad this is now happening.”

Simon Bokor-Ingram, chief officer for Moray Health and Social Care Partnership who is leading plans to re-shape maternity services in Elgin said the health board is “committed to the delivery of a consultant-led obstetric unit”.

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf. Image: PA.

He added: “This week our Grampian NHS Board will consider a draft plan, which will deliver at pace our proposals for the delivery of a contemporary, sustainable obstetric service within the next few years, to operate alongside the existing excellent midwife-led service, bringing significant benefits to Moray mums and their families.”

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said the Scottish Government “looks forward to receiving plans from NHS Grampian later this month”.

He added: “We have committed £5 million for the redevelopment of Raigmore Hospital and £5 million in resource funding to support the reintroduction of obstetric maternity services to Dr Grays.”