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‘Unacceptable’ three-year wait for Inverurie birthing pools prompts calls for health secretary to intervene

The two pools were closed in 2020 due to installation problems and remain closed to this day due to water quality issues.

Inverurie Health and Care Hub. Image: Google.
Inverurie Health and Care Hub. Image: Google.

SNP health chief Michael Matheson is facing calls to intervene in the “unacceptable” three-year closure of the birthing pools at Inverurie Community Midwife Unit.

The two pools have been out of action since 2020 when they closed due to installation problems, just one year after the opening of the community midwife unit.

They remain closed to this day due to water quality issues. The birthing pool at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital is also out of service.

While birthing pools at Peterhead and Elgin are open, they have previously been hit by similar problems, forcing them to close for a period.

Concerned mums-to-be in Inverurie and the surrounding area contacted their local MSP Gillian Martin over the ongoing closure of the pools.

‘Limited birth options’

The Aberdeenshire MSP has now written to Mr Matheson asking for his support after struggling to get a reopening date from NHS Grampian.

In her letter, the SNP politician said: “The mothers-to-be who have been engaging with me regarding this matter have been understanding of the issues with water quality.

“They also fully appreciate that patient safety is paramount. However, they find it unacceptable and very concerning that following over two years of investigation and work that a resolution to this issue has not been brought about.

“Consequently, mothers-to-be in my rural constituency continue to face limited birth options.”

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin has been contacted by concerned mothers-to-be. Image: Kenny Elrick/DC Thomson.

NHS Grampian has suggested travel to Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin as an option but Ms Martin added this is “not viable” for most of her constituents.

The SNP politician said: “This ongoing situation is therefore understandably causing considerable stress and anxiety for many women and their families.”

‘Undue stress’

Kathryn Masterson, is chair of the Grampian Maternity Voices Partnership, who have been lobbying NHS Grampian about the situation at Inverurie to “little effect”.

She said the closures are causing “undue stress” on women and families who are being “forced to give birth elsewhere”.

She added: “This impacts on mother’s mental health which in some circumstances can have an adverse effect on the unborn child.

“We hear of women scrabbling around trying to decide where to give birth as they prefer to avoid Aberdeen Maternity Hospital or they want to avoid excessive journeying during labour.

Women are anxious about the lack of birth options available to them. Image: Shutterstock.

“The options are few, especially when the Peterhead’s pools were also out of action for a period this year. ”

The Press and Journal last month shared the stories of north-east women who have been forced to look for alternatives to get the birth they want.

Water births are just one of the ways mums can give birth in the NHS.

However, their popularity has increased in recent years as they’ve been shown to aid pain relief and even shorten labour.

The NHS can support women to have water births at home but some women will prefer to be in a hospital setting.

‘Lengthy process’

NHS Grampian was unable to give an expected reopening date when asked by the P&J but said work to resolve the water quality issues at Inverurie continues.

A spokeswoman added: “This is a lengthy process as we have strict water quality standards within healthcare settings and are required to produce three satisfactory water testing results in a row.

“Each test takes several weeks, and if any one of these results is anything less than satisfactory then required mitigations are put in place before testing begins again.

“This means a full round of testing can take several months, not to mention planning new mitigations in between.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon officially opened the Inverurie Health and Social Care Hub in 2019. Image: Scott Baxter/DC Thomson.

“Numerous mitigations have been tried in Inverurie and we are continuing to work alongside partners, including the operators of the site, to address this.

“It is NHS Grampian’s commitment as an organisation to offer water births to families in our care. Midwives and the wider management team share the concerns regarding the impact of the lack of birthing pool facilities in Inverurie and are doing everything they can to find solutions. Safety remains our first priority.”

What birthing pools are available elsewhere?

Aberdeen Maternity Hospital’s pool has been closed since April, when a leak in the labour ward caused rooms in the midwife unit to shut.

It was hoped repairs would take six weeks but more problems were uncovered. Work on plumbling and ventilation may be needed to reopen the pool.

And further north in Peterhead, the community hospital’s birthing pools, which are now back in operation, were closed after a legionella outbreak in February. 

Dr Gray's hospital in Elgin. NHS Grampian bosses will discuss the health board's budget on Thursday. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.
Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin also experienced issues last year. Image: Jason Hedges/DC Thomson.

They only reopened last month, while the pools in Elgin, which are up and running, were shut for two months last year when a leak from a drainage pipe flooded out into a corridor and into a theatre downstairs. 

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The Scottish Government is committed to ensuring that the high-quality maternity care delivered every day across Scotland is as safe as possible for mothers and babies.”

For the latest up to date information on birthing pool availability at NHS Grampian, please visit here.