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Keep MUM campaigners fear Dr Gray's labour suite rejig is further downgrade of Moray maternity services and raise concerns that NHS Grampian has 'no intention' of restoring consultant-led unit

By Lorna Thompson

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MORAY campaigners this week raised fresh concerns over NHS Grampian's commitment to returning local maternity services to full strength.

Keep MUM campaigners fear NHS Grampian has "no intention" of restoring the consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray's Hospital, despite Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman's instruction to do so.

The unit was downgraded to a midwife-led service in July 2018 over staffing issues.

Campaigners believe ongoing modernisation of Dr Gray's Ward 3 labour suite could further downgrade the maternity unit by reducing the number of rooms. They are concerned that the unit is being altered to put in place a permanent midwifery unit.

However, Dr Gray's Hospital management say the reduction in capacity is temporary while the suite is being modernised and that the current level of service will be maintained.

The Ward 3 refurbishment will see the four birthing rooms upgraded and create a new water birthing pool room.

An NHS Grampian spokesperson said the refurbishment has been planned on a phased and staged approach to ensure minimal disruption to women who give birth at the hospital. All birthing rooms will be back in use once the refurbishment is completed during May this year.

The spokesperson added: "There is no plan to permanently reduce birthing room capacity at Ward 3."

Keep MUM campaigners raised their concerns this week with Moray SNP MSP Richard Lochhead, who has again written to NHS Grampian chief executive Caroline Hiscox. Campaigners say an urgent and public response from NHS Grampian is vital.

And Scottish Conservative MP for Moray Douglas Ross has called on NHS Grampian bosses to be more open.

Mr Lochhead highlighted that locals desperately need a clear picture as local women continue to face the near 70-mile journey to Aberdeen to give birth.

He said: "The community in Moray are demanding a clear roadmap for the restoration of a consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray’s and associated specialist services.

"The years are disappearing and there is a growing belief that NHS Grampian’s heart is not in this and they just want to keeping kicking the can further down the road.

"Keep MUM’s concerns are echoed by myself and the wider community and, importantly, also by the staff at the hospital, and morale there is suffering as a result."

Moray SNP MSP Richard Lochhead with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on a visit to Dr Gray's Hospital, in Elgin, in 2018. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.
Moray SNP MSP Richard Lochhead with Health Secretary Jeane Freeman on a visit to Dr Gray's Hospital, in Elgin, in 2018. Picture: Daniel Forsyth.

He added: "We were originally told that a shortage of trainee doctors was why the service was temporarily downgraded, but now we are told there are a range of different challenges and meanwhile many local women are left facing the journey to Aberdeen to give birth.

"Everyone appreciates that the current pandemic has to be the focus of the NHS – but we need credible evidence of NHS Grampian’s commitment to restoring the service and the roadmap to get us there.

"I have written in the strongest terms to NHS bosses seeking this and I also hope to speak to the health secretary who remains committed to Dr Gray’s."

A Keep MUM spokesperson said: "Obviously, we are well aware of the ongoing Covid-19 situation and totally appreciate everything being done by the NHS to keep the people of Moray safe.

"But maternity services are, in the words of the Scottish Government, ‘urgent services’ which must be protected during the pandemic.

"The people of Moray need to know what exactly needs to be done to make a consultant maternity service safe at Dr Gray's Hospital."

The campaigners say mums-to-be are experiencing fears around complications happening on the road to Aberdeen. The spokesperson added: "Anxieties about these events have a major impact on our mental health. Absolutely no account is being taken of it."

Alasdair Pattinson, general manager at Dr Gray’s Hospital, said: "Work is under way to modernise and improve maternity facilities at Dr Gray’s Hospital, to ensure they are equipped for the future.

"During this process, rooms will temporarily be taken out of use to allow them to be upgraded but once work is complete the unit’s current capacity will be maintained.

"We continue to be able to maintain normal service throughout this time.

"These works are part of wider improvements planned for health care in Moray."

At the beginning of this year health bosses said it would be April at the earliest before its plan to restore the service is ready after delays due to its focus on Covid-19.

Mr Ross said the situation was causing "a great deal of worry" in the region, especially for women due to give birth in the coming months.

He said: "I’ve taken this up with the chief executive of NHS Grampian and the general manager at Dr Gray’s as expectant families deserve to have clear answers about the future of the maternity unit.

"We all understand that we are still in the middle of a pandemic and that NHS resources have been directed, rightly, towards dealing with Covid.

"However, local campaigners have legitimate concerns about the future of maternity services in Elgin and the issue is causing a great deal of worry for people across Moray.

"This will be particularly troubling for women who are due to give birth in the coming months, and their families. I know how stressful a time this is as Krystle and I are expecting our second in June and the ongoing issues at Dr Gray’s add a great deal of uncertainty to what should be a really happy time.

"People deserve reassurances that services will be restored to their previous level when the refurbishment and upgrade work is complete."

Highlands and Islands Scottish Conservative MSP Jamie Halcro Johnston pointed the finger at the Scottish Government for the lack of progress in restoring local maternity services.

Mr Halcro Johnston said: "As the winter weather hits Moray hard, the failure of the Scottish Government to restore a consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray’s is left exposed for all to see.

"Despite all the promises from Scottish ministers, it is now three years since the service was lost and there seems to be little confidence of if and when it might be restored.

"We owe a huge debt of thanks to the midwives, the ambulance service and all the other NHS staff involved in keeping local mums and babies safe.

"But surely it cannot be right that people in the final stage of pregnancy are expected to travel along a road like the A96 during severe winter weather.

"It is putting extra demands our the ambulance service, as well as huge additional pressure on anxious family members forced to undertake the drive themselves.

"Moray’s maternity services must be restored and a clear commitment and timescale on that happening laid out."

Councillor Tim Eagle, leader of the Conservative Group on Moray Council, added: "I have spoken to a number of local NHS staff very concerned that mums in labour are still having to travel to Aberdeen during the depths of winter, and during a pandemic.

"Frankly, despite all the fine words and promises from Jeane Freeman and Richard Lochhead that they share our concern and would act to restore the service, we seem to be no further on than we were three years ago."

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