The latest episode of BBC ALBA’s award-winning current affairs programme, Eòrpa, explores the campaign to reinstate specialist maternity services in Elgin and Caithness.
Reporter Eileen Macdonald speaks to Forres-based mum Jade Duncan, Kirsty Watson from Keep Mum – a group set up to help protect the specialist maternity unit at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin – and takes into account government and local health board response.
Jade gave birth to her baby last month and was deemed to be in an emergency situation – having to travel to Aberdeen after giving birth in Dr Gray’s over concerns she had an infection after a caesarean section.
Eileen also hears from Ron Gunn from Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) – who campaigns for improved health services across Caithness – to learn more about the situation there.
Since maternity and obstetric services at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin were downgraded in 2018, locals have been campaigning for a reinstatement of consultant-led care in Moray for expectant mothers.
For the last four years the only option for many women was the 65-mile journey to Aberdeen and the risk of going into labour on a journey which can take up to 90 minutes.
Scottish Health Secretary, Humza Yousaf, has promised to reintroduce a consultant-led obstetrics unit in Elgin, but there is no immediate prospect of that.
In Wick, there has been a similar campaign to upgrade the current level of maternity and obstetric provision after the unit at Caithness General Hospital was downgraded in 2016.
Most women in Caithness now give birth in Inverness, a two-hour-plus drive from Wick. The area is also said to have the highest rates of induced births in the UK.
A 2021 independent review of maternity services in Moray recommended, in the short term, to establish a so-called Model 4 solution, a community maternity unit at Dr Gray’s hospital linked to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, which is closer to Elgin than Aberdeen.
This is an interim measure, but local campaigners are unhappy with this and insist that full consultant-led services be reinstated at Dr Gray’s as soon as possible (Model 6 in the independent review)
However, the interim solution linking Dr Gray’s to Raigmore has itself been heavily criticised by senior clinicians at Raigmore who claim the hospital doesn’t have the capability for this.
An update on the future of maternity services in Moray is expected to be published later this month.
Kirsty Watson from Keep Mum commented:
“The current maternity provision is below standard, it’s not fair for women, it’s making them anxious, it’s dangerous and it’s gone on too long.
“It’s not acceptable.
“We are too far from specialist maternity care.
“If something goes wrong here we are a two-hour drive from Aberdeen.
“If we choose to have our babies in Aberdeen we have that two-hour drive in labour and it’s not good enough.”
On the situation in Elgin, Scottish Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf MSP, told Eòrpa:
“Let’s not lose focus and sight of what is the destination, and I’m committed to that destination, which is Model 6, and that destination is returning consultant-led maternity services to Dr Gray’s.”
Regarding the issues in Caithness, he added:
“I think it’s a very reasonable argument to make from the campaigners in Caithness that we should explore the Orkney Model, that networked model as it’s often called, and I don’t want to pre-empt the review that’s being undertaken.”
Eòrpa airs on BBC ALBA on Thursday December 8 at 8.30pm and will be on BBC iPlayer for 11 months after.