First Minister challenged over state of maternity services in the north-east
The Scottish Parliament has heard the powerful story of an expectant mother in Moray, who feared her baby would die, as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was quizzed about the “unworkable and unsafe” maternity services in the north east.
Maternity services were downgraded at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin in 2018 due to staff shortages, and ever since, most Moray babies have been delivered in Aberdeen – 65 miles away.
In early December, the Scottish Government commissioned a review to examine whether a consultant-led service could be reinstated, which recommended setting up a Community Maternity Unit linked mainly to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness in the short term.
This model would see women being given the choice of delivering their baby at either Dr Gray's - if they are classed as low risk - Aberdeen or Raigmore, with antenatal care provided at Dr Gray's.
During First Minister’s Questions, Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said: “[Health Secretary] Humza Yousaf stood in this chamber on the seventh of December, responding to the independent review into maternity services in Moray, and told me that he, and I quote, ‘absolutely believed that there is capacity in place to deal with the additional women who may have to go to Raigmore’.
“But that confidence isn't shared by more than a dozen clinical experts who have written to the Health Secretary about the report. They say the findings are unworkable and unsafe.
“They wrote privately to the Health Secretary, but when he didn't respond to them, they went public. So what is the first minister say to moms to be and families who are in fear during their pregnancy?”
Sturgeon replied: “The cabinet secretary has met with staff, the boards, and local people before Christmas and the Scottish Government is considering all of the recommendations very, very carefully.
“It is important that we get this right, it is absolutely important that we recognise the desire, the understandable and important desire, of women to give birth as close to home as possible.
“But it is also really important that we don't lose sight of the issues of patient safety and I can give an assurance to the chamber, but more importantly to local people, that all of these issues will be subject to the most serious and careful consideration.”
Ross then proceeded to read out to the First Minister the testimony of an expectant mother who was transferred from Elgin to Aberdeen: “These are the words of a mum: ‘I had been told that if I had a bleed before giving birth, the chances were slim that I would survive. And consequently, neither would my baby.
“I spent months in constant fear that I would bleed. Then the worst happened and I started bleeding at home. I was transferred initially to Dr Gray’s, then to Aberdeen in a blue light ambulance. The bleeding did initially stop. I was told my baby had a heartbeat. But when the bleeding started again, on the way to Aberdeen, I was told the heartbeat had gone.
“I therefore thought my baby was dead, and it was likely I was next.’
“First Minister, this is going to happen to more and more women, the longer this is going to go on.
“When doctors and midwives are saying the options on the table wouldn't work, what is the First Minister and her government going to do about it, and why are they not responding to these medical experts?”
Sturgeon replied: “Firstly I acknowledge the personal experience here.
“We all, not all but many of us, myself included, have personal experiences around baby loss at different stages and therefore I absolutely understand the emotion, the sensitivity and the seriousness of these issues.
“The Scottish Government commissioned the report as part of a commitment to the reintroduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and a sustainable way. And that is really important.
“The report that has been published is a substantial report. It's very thorough, and it is important that all of the recommendations in that report are considered extremely carefully.”
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