Jamie Stone has issued a fresh plea about the long journeys made by many mothers-to-be from Caithness, arguing that no family should face increased risk “simply because of where they live”.
Speaking in Parliament today, the Liberal Democrat MP described giving birth as a “massive, massive issue” in his constituency of Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
The consultant-led maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital was upgraded in 2016 to a midwife-led facility and most women in the Far North now give birth at Rigmore.
Mr Stone told MPs that for many women this meant traveling by car for more than 100 miles, sometimes in bad weather.
“Despite repeated demands, the Scottish Government has never carried out a safety audit of this huge change to the service,” he said. “This is a massive, massive issue in my constituency.
“I feel very strongly that no mother, no father, no child, no unborn baby should suffer increased risk just because of where they live in our United Kingdom.”
Mr Stone noted that a review of the situation of Moray mothers was being carried out and said the same should apply to those in the Far North.
In the last four years, since the maternity service in Elgin was downgraded due to a shortage of consultants, most pregnant Moray women have had to travel to Aberdeen to give birth. Moves are being explored to allow more Murray mothers to be sent instead to Raigmore in Inverness.
Mr Stone said he recognized that health was a focused matter.
He said: “A few years ago, we enjoyed a consultant-led maternity service based at Caithness General Hospital. It was decided by NHS Highland to downgrade that.
“The result is that expectant mothers have to travel 104 miles from Wick to Inverness to give birth to their children. This has caused a huge outcry in my constituency.
“What if you’re in an ambulance or a private car in the winter and the weather changes, which it does very often between Caithness and Sutherland, and you get caught in a snowdrift?”
Caithness Health’s action team noted that 92% of local mothers had to travel to Inverness to give birth. The group would like to see a return to a consultant-led maternity service in Wick, but feel an “Orkney model” – a midwife-led unit supported by consultants – would work for Caithness.