Providing consultant-supported care for women giving birth at a Moray hospital is possible in the medium to long term, but will need a “significant increase in staff recruitment”, an independent review has concluded.
It examined the options for women giving birth at Dr Gary’s Hospital in Elgin after services were downgraded from a consultant-led unit in 2018 amid staffing shortages.
Campaigners have been calling for the return of consultant care at the hospital, allowing more women to give birth in their local community instead of having to travel to Aberdeen or Inverness.
Campaigners at Keep Mum, who are fighting for the restoration of a consultant-led unit at the hospital, claim it is “too far away from a specialist maternity unit to function safely as a midwifery unit”.
The review, led by Ralph Roberts, chief executive of NHS Borders, concluded that a consultant-supported maternity unit was “achievable in the medium to long-term”, but added: “This will be dependent on a significant increase in staff recruitment, which is a known challenge across Scotland (and indeed the UK) at the present time.
“It is also dependent upon continuous development of Dr Gray’s Hospital to enable it to function at a level commensurate with other small, rural district general hospitals in Scotland.”
A consultant-supported unit would allow women to give birth by planned or emergency Caesarean section at Dr Gray’s, as well as for “instrumental births”, such as those requiring forceps.
The review concluded that a community maternity unit is the “most appropriate model”, but this would mean there would be no facility at Dr Gray’s for instrumental deliveries or emergency Caesarean sections.
The review team heard from women including one mother who said that after 35 hours she was sent to hospital in Aberdeen because her labour was not progressing.
She recalled: “My husband had to drive me and I was in so much pain that the only way I could achieve any level of comfort was to kneel in the back seat facing backwards holding the headrest. I had no seatbelt on the whole way.”
Mr Roberts said the review – which was commissioned when Jeane Freeman was health secretary – had “focused on listening to the women, families and service users in Moray, as well as the staff involved in delivering the services”.
He said: “Our aim was to benefit those planning and delivering services, but most importantly to serve the mothers and babies who have a right to be appropriately supported through their pregnancy and birth experience.
“We believe these robust recommendations are most appropriate for Moray at this time and looking to the future, and we would encourage all parties to work collaboratively to deliver on them for the benefit of the whole community.”
Mr Yousaf said: “The Scottish Government commissioned this report as part of our commitment to the reintroduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and sustainable way.”
After receiving the “thorough and substantial report” he said he was “considering all of the recommendations carefully”.
The Health Secretary said: “At this stage the Government does not rule out any options moving forward.
“We will rightly meet with local people, clinicians and elected representatives to hear first-hand from them.
“I know this is a highly anticipated report, and I repeat my commitment to move forward with making significant improvements to maternity services at Dr Gray’s with pace.”
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