Dr Gray’s Maternity Unit

– in the Scottish Parliament on 15th June 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Annabelle Ewing Annabelle Ewing Scottish National Party

I remind members that social distancing measures are in place in the chamber and across the Holyrood campus. I ask members to take care to observe the measures, including when they enter and exit the chamber.

The final item of business today is a members’ business debate on motion S6M-00251, in the name of Douglas Ross, on the campaign to restore the consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s hospital, in Elgin. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament understands with concern that, following a decision in July 2018 to downgrade the consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s in Elgin, many local expectant mums have to travel out of Moray to give birth; praises the efforts of midwives and all the staff who provide an outstanding service for those who can give birth there, but believes that too many women are made to travel outwith Moray to give birth; understands that the Scottish Government has commissioned an independent review of maternity services at Dr Gray’s to consider how best to restore the consultant-led service; commends the Keep MUM group and the local campaigners who are fighting hard to have the service restored; understands that the community was originally told that the downgrade would be temporary for up to a year, but notes that, almost three years on, the service has still not been restored, and notes the calls on the Scottish Government and NHS Grampian to urgently seek a resolution to this issue and to provide families in Moray with the locally-based maternity services that they deserve.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

Thank you, deputy returning officer—sorry, Presiding Officer. The election seems far away now.

I declare an interest: my wife is due to have our second child a week from today, and all being well, we will have our second child—as we did our first child, Alistair—at Dr Gray’s maternity unit in Elgin. Presiding Officer, I hope that I have your permission to keep an eye on my phone, in case I get an urgent message that I should travel back to Moray.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please keep us all advised, Mr Ross.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I want to give some background to explain how we got into the situation about which I lodged the motion. In July 2018, NHS Grampian announced a temporary downgrading of the maternity unit at Dr Gray’s. The period was to be for up to a year—I remember that clearly, because the day when I got a phone call from Alasdair Pattinson, the general manager at Dr Gray’s, was the day when we found out that we were expecting our first child. I knew that, if the downgrading lasted for a full year, our first child might not be born at Dr Gray’s and might be one of a cohort of babies who could not be born in our local hospital.

Almost three years on, as we await the birth of our second child, the temporary downgrade is still in place. It is unacceptable for families and expectant mums across Moray that such uncertainty has been hanging over the issue for so long.

As I said in the

Press and Journal today, where I put forward my views ahead of the debate, there is anxiety, not just for the mums who are told that they cannot give birth in Elgin and must travel outwith Moray to Aberdeen, Inverness or further afield, but for the mums who are on a green pathway. My wife, Krystle, has spoken of her concerns about going for a check-up with her midwife or doctor and being told, “Actually, you need to go to Aberdeen or Inverness.” Even the women who are on the more positive, green pathway and are expected to give birth in Elgin are worried about the possibility of having to travel further afield.

It is important to put the issue in context and to look at the numbers that we are talking about. Last night, I was grateful to have a discussion with Kirsty Watson and Marj Adams, from the Keep MUM—the maternity unit for Moray—campaign, which has made sterling efforts to restore the consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s. We went over some of the figures, and I think that it would be useful for members to hear them.

Between 2010 and 2017, which was the last full year of a fully consultant-led maternity unit, the average number of births at Dr Gray’s in Elgin was 1,052. In 2010, the average number was 1,097; in 2011, it was 1,100; in 2012, it was 1,072; in 2013, it was 1,029; in 2014, it was 1,073; in 2015, it was 1,050; and, in 2016, it was 1,036. In 2017, there were 959 births in Elgin, in our consultant-led maternity unit, under the great care of our outstanding midwives and staff, who continue to do terrific work day in, day out.

In 2020, the most recent full year for which we have figures, the number of births in Elgin was 178. Fewer than 20 per cent of Moray mums gave birth in Moray. Of the rest, 714 went to Aberdeen, 16 went to Raigmore and 13 were home births. The figures tell the story of so many mums having to travel outwith Moray.

That brings up many concerns. What happens during the couple of hours’ drive from Elgin to Aberdeen if something goes wrong when a mum is in labour? What happens to the family who are left at home worrying about a mum giving birth on their way through to Aberdeen? It creates more problems and difficulties for families with younger children. At the moment, we live five or six minutes away from Dr Gray’s. If Krystle has to give birth in Aberdeen, we are two-and-a-half hours away, and we have to worry about childcare for our two-and-a-bit-year-old son.

NHS Grampian has not properly addressed those issues, and I hope that we hear from the cabinet secretary about what will be done to ensure that the health board responds far more positively. NHS Grampian’s response has been dismal. I note that it submitted a briefing for today’s debate. I have to say that it is extremely disappointing. It consists of the fact that a debate is being held, a copied and pasted quote from the chief executive of NHS Grampian about the independent review, and a little bit about the pandemic response and additional use of ward 3. It is a page and a half from NHS Grampian that says nothing about what it has put women in Moray through for the past three years, nothing about what it has done to restore the consultant-led unit, and nothing about what it is doing now to engage positively with the campaigners, who are concerned that the health board has not listened to them, because they have not had a response from the chief executive and others to their serious concerns. The Keep MUM Facebook page contains a number of harrowing tales from mums following their birth experiences outwith Moray, and the health board is basically ignoring those. I would like the cabinet secretary to respond to those concerns in his summing up.

An independent review is under way. I welcome that and look forward to its findings. The Keep MUM campaigners whom I spoke to last night have certainly been impressed by the engagement from that group and Ralph Roberts. I hope that the review leads to a positive outcome.

We are, however, still in a situation in which, three years on, we have a continuing temporary downgrade, with no sign of it coming to an end.

Photo of Richard Lochhead Richard Lochhead Scottish National Party

I congratulate the member on securing such an important debate. One thing that we have in common is our personal experience of the maternity unit, given the fact that my younger son was born there with consultant intervention. That would not have been possible if there had not been a consultant-led unit there at the time.

The member has highlighted many important issues, but does he also agree that there is an important issue here for the local economy? If we want young families to live and work in the area, they will have a much greater degree of confidence if the service is restored sooner rather than later.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

I absolutely agree with Richard Lochhead. There are not many campaigns that unite us, but we were united on the Plainstones in Elgin three years ago when the announcement was first made. As the local MP, I have campaigned hard for the restoration of the service, as has Richard Lochhead, as the local MSP.

That shows that this is not a party-political issue. It was not a party-political issue years ago during the original campaign to have a consultant-led maternity unit. Margaret Ewing, who was the Scottish National Party MSP at the time, led the charge locally and worked with Michael Forsyth, who was the Conservative minister, to ensure that we had a consultant-led unit. We are all working again to restore the unit, because it is vital.

We have outstanding staff at Dr Gray’s. They want to help expectant mums. They will do that with the limited numbers of Moray mothers—fewer than 20 per cent—who give birth in Elgin at the moment, but many more Moray families should be able to experience that excellent care.

I hope that the cabinet secretary will give us an update on the independent review in his summing up, and that he will say how that will be outlined to the campaigners, NHS Grampian and others? Will key milestones be announced? Will there be timescales by which those milestones should be reached, to ensure that the service is restored? The review will also look at the progress that NHS Grampian has made to date in restoring consultant-led services in Elgin, following a request by the previous health secretary. If the review finds that no, or not enough, progress has been made, what action will be taken against NHS Grampian?

Expectant mums in Moray are worried about where they will deliver their children. I hope that the cabinet secretary and the Government will tell them tonight when there will once again be a consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Karen Adam, who is making her first speech in Parliament.

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

Deputy Presiding Officer, as this is my first opportunity to do so, I welcome you to your new role and wish you well in this session of Parliament.

Coming into the Parliament as a newly elected member may have left me feeling a bit like a cat without whiskers, still navigating my way around the building and the procedures, but I knew as soon as the Keep MUM campaign was highlighted to me that I wanted to get stuck straight into supporting and helping the campaigners in any way that I could. They are a hardworking and determined group who want the best, and rightly so. I thank them for their communication and engagement with me.

I have given birth in various circumstances, some of which were high risk. That risk was exaggerated by living rurally and travelling many miles to Aberdeen to give birth in emergency circumstances that almost resulted in a fatal outcome. As members can imagine, I have a great deal of not only empathy but understanding for the women in my constituency and the Keep MUM campaign, who have reached out with their experiences in order to prevent any further distress.

The year is 2021: we should acknowledge that bringing human beings into the world—[

Interruption

.] I am sorry; my legs are shaking. Can I sit down?

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Take a wee minute and then resume your speech.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Can you rise again, take a deep breath and continue?

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

I am fine, Presiding Officer. Thank you. I want to get this right.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I think that, unless there is some reason why you cannot stand, you must get to your feet again, please.

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

Too often, women’s health is not prioritised, as we often just get on and do not make a fuss. After all, as some have said, babies have been born every day since the dawn of time. Thankfully, attitudes have changed and we now know and understand the importance of how and where a child is born and of how that can impact on the physical and mental health of not only the mother but the child. If we truly want to give children in Scotland the best start in life, we must ensure that we start with the care and attention that is received during pregnancy and the moment of arrival at birth. That is the very start.

I want the best start in life for my constituents. I am humbled and honoured to represent my Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency. It is a rural constituency that is rich in beauty, culture and history. Fishing is the main source of that history and culture, and it is an industry to which I will give a high level of attention during this session.

Speaking of my constituency, I pay tribute to Stewart Stevenson, who represented the area for 20 years. He was a long-standing member who is highly regarded and fondly thought of. Presiding Officer, I ask that you be somewhat forgiving with me, as this is my first speech. I promised that I would ensure a nod to Stewart, and I could think of no better way of doing that than to bring a pop of eccentricity to the chamber today by wearing these rainbow braces. I also take the opportunity to honour pride month.

The stunning Banffshire and Buchan Coast constituency, which attracts tourists from around the globe, is rich in natural resources and in people who are not only proud of their home but extremely resilient and resourceful. The irony is that my constituency also contains nearly 50 per cent of the universal credit claimant list for the whole of Aberdeenshire and has among the highest levels of child poverty in the shire. The north-east of Scotland has been the area that has been and will be hardest hit as a result of Brexit and latterly, of course, the pandemic. We should not be adding more pain and suffering to the people at this time.

I am sorry, but my legs shake. It is a physical condition.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Please just continue seated.

Photo of Karen Adam Karen Adam Scottish National Party

I feel fine. It is just my legs. I will take a second until it settles. It will go again.

I hear from my constituents a genuine concern that not everyone will reap the benefits when the economy of the north-east improves, but I know that the Government will ensure that that does not happen. That can be addressed, in part, by reflecting more broadly on the opportunities for discussions on how to revitalise humanely the affected communities. I am asking my constituents what they and their families want or imagine for their future living, working and thriving in the communities that they love, not just for now but for future generations. As a new MSP, I ask myself how I can improve their representation on what matters to them and what lessons are to be learned to prevent uneven developments in moving forward. If we do not invest the time to reflect on any of that, we will have missed the point entirely.

Inequalities—gender inequalities, for example, which we are debating today—must be a part of those plans. I am ready and willing to work, debate and discuss matters on a cross-party basis, as we are doing today, to ensure the best possible outcomes for not only my constituents but people across Scotland.

I welcome my colleague Humza Yousaf to his new role as Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, and I thank him for his attention to the issue. I am sure that we will be in communication to do all that we can to support those services. I also thank his predecessor, Jeane Freeman, for her long-standing support and work to bring a vital consultant-led service to Dr Gray’s. That is not just something on a wish list; it is part of the plan for a Scotland in which our people can thrive and have the best immediate start in life. [

Applause

.]

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Thank you, Ms Adam. Well done.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

I thank my colleague Douglas Ross for securing this members’ business debate and for all the work that he is doing standing up for mothers in Moray. I also welcome the support that Richard Lochhead is giving, and I commend the campaigning efforts of the Keep MUM group, which has worked tirelessly to ensure that the local maternity services are restored. The group’s efforts have not been in vain, but they have been frustrated by the SNP Government.

As we have heard, when maternity services were initially downgraded, families were told that that would be only a temporary solution. It was to be for only a year. Three years on, we have seen little progress. I know that expectant mums from Moray are still being forced to travel unacceptable distances to give birth in either Aberdeen or Inverness. Instead of resolving the issue, the Government has launched an independent review to consider how the consultant-led service could be reinstated. That is laudable, but we need results. The people of Moray deserve much more than a review; they deserve urgent action to restore their local maternity services. That is what families in Moray want. I welcome the work of Richard Lochhead and Douglas Ross.

The shocking figures on the decreases in the numbers of babies delivered in Dr Gray’s that Douglas Ross quoted were entirely predictable. The Government refused to deliver maternity services to Caithness, which means that expectant mothers in labour have had to face the prospect of being transported for two hours in the back of an ambulance to reach a centralised urban hospital. How can that be acceptable?

As we all know, pregnancy is already an anxious and stressful time. I do not believe that sending expectant mothers on long journeys, if the roads to Raigmore hospital or to Aberdeen are open, safeguards their wellbeing.

As much as the Government would like to sweep the issue in Caithness under the carpet, it is not going away. The downgrading of maternity services means that more than 90 per cent of expectant mums in Caithness are travelling down to Raigmore. Only 15 out of 160 births happen in the locality. More concerning, inductions have become more commonplace. Just over half Caithness mums are induced for birth in Raigmore hospital. That is far from ideal. The overall impact is that many women in Caithness are apprehensive about starting a family, as are women in Moray. That will not change until there is more use of recovery teams in Caithness or the full deployment of specialist teams to maternity units that are struggling to recruit staff.

That is why Moray needs a consultant-led team.

Our Highland communities do not want the centralisation of more and more services in Inverness and Aberdeen. Families in Caithness and Moray want a Government that protects local services. It is time to restore services fully, so that mothers can give birth locally. We need to cement the fabric of communities by giving the people who want to be part of those communities confidence that they can get care locally. That is what mums need to expect as they start their families, but it will not happen if they have to travel miles to give birth—that is centralisation.

Centralisation is not what we want for our health services in Scotland, of which we are so proud when they deliver care and are run locally.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

I congratulate Douglas Ross on securing the debate, and I congratulate Karen Adam on making her first speech in the Parliament.

The birth of a child should be a joyous occasion, with the mother surrounded by her partner and family. It is not an illness; it is a life event that requires to be cherished. That is why giving birth in the setting that the mother desires, with access to family, is crucial.

We all know that things can go wrong and that intervention can be required to save both mother and child. Having obstetricians and paediatricians on hand to intervene at short notice gives confidence to parents and to midwives.

That should be the case in Dr Gray’s hospital in Elgin. Indeed, it was the case until staffing shortages forced what was supposed to be a temporary change. Unfortunately, three years later, the change appears to be permanent.

As other members said, Dr Gray’s is not the only hospital in such a situation. The service is no longer available at the Caithness general either, and there appears to be no will on the part of NHS Highland to look again at the matter.

The issue is the lack of paediatricians. When the situation in Caithness was assessed, it was suggested that obstetric support alone might lead to a delay in transfer in an emergency, which would mean that a baby who was born in difficult circumstances would not have paediatric support. The lack of both sets of professionals is forcing women in labour who get into difficulty to be transferred by ambulance while they are in labour. Many women in that situation have given birth in even more dangerous circumstances. The case of the twins who were born in two different counties illustrates that; only the quick thinking and dedication of staff saved the day.

The alternative is inductions and elective caesarean sections, which are not without risk. There has been a marked increase in those procedures. Risk assessments are needed in relation to the increase in caesarean sections and the risks of travel while in labour, especially on poor roads in wintry conditions.

The Scottish Government must carry the responsibility for the situation. It has failed to train sufficient staff to enable women to give birth closer to home. It needs to turn the situation around and ensure that medics are trained—and, more important, trained in a rural setting.

In the interim, the Government needs to consider how to get specialists to the mother and baby, rather than expecting a mother in labour to travel to services. It needs to enable ScotSTAR—the Scottish specialist transport and retrieval service, which provides emergency stabilisation and retrieval—to consider how it can extend the service to obstetric and associated paediatric support.

It is a huge disappointment that the service at Dr Gray’s has not been reinstated, and we need to see more tangible action now. I pay tribute to the Keep MUM group, which has led the campaign to restore the service. I wish the group well and offer my support to its campaign until we get the services reinstated at Dr Gray’s.

Photo of Emma Harper Emma Harper Scottish National Party

I welcome the opportunity to speak in the debate, and I thank Douglas Ross for bringing it to the chamber today. I also acknowledge that Richard Lochhead, who is the constituency MSP for Elgin, has been very active on the matter, and it is good to see cross-party working on the issue.

I will focus my remarks on the Scottish Government’s review of maternity services at Dr Gray’s hospital, and on similar issues presented by rurality that are experienced by women across Dumfries and Galloway in my South Scotland region, particularly in Stranraer and Wigtownshire.

I agree with the motion that the decision to downgrade maternity services in Elgin, albeit on clinical safety grounds, has caused serious concern for many women and families across the area. Douglas Ross mentioned travel distances for mums who are on a green pathway, but for many expecting mothers with medium or high-risk pregnancies, the prospect of travelling many miles for maternity services will cause much anxiety. It is a 150-mile round trip from Stranraer to Dumfries, and friends’ experiences tell me that many people get anxious when having to travel such a distance.

I, too, commend the work of the Keep MUM group in ensuring that a proper, consultant-led maternity service is restored at Dr Gray’s hospital as soon as possible. I also commend the work of the doctors, midwives, nurses and the whole multidisciplinary team at Dr Gray’s hospital for their professionalism in working with mothers and all other patients.

I welcome the fact that, in March, the Scottish Government commissioned an independent review into maternity services at Dr Gray’s hospital, which is being chaired by Ralph Roberts, the chief executive of NHS Borders. The independent review is currently considering

“how a consultant-led service could be reinstated that is safe, deliverable and sustainable and will take into account the views of women, their families, staff and stakeholders.”

The review is due to publish its findings later this month, and I look forward to seeing its recommendations. I welcome the Scottish Government’s action to see a safe, consultant-led maternity service for mothers across Elgin and wider Moray.

Across Wigtownshire in my South Scotland region, expecting mothers have also faced issues when it comes to maternity services. Since 2018, there have only been out-patient maternity services at the Galloway community hospital, meaning that expecting mothers have to either have a home birth or travel on a 150-mile round trip to Dumfries and Galloway royal infirmary when they go into labour. However, a number of antenatal services such as ultrasound, treatment of early-onset complications, such as pre-eclampsia, and managing post-delivery issues are being delivered at the Galloway community hospital.

The situation has presented many challenges for women across the area, particularly when it comes to urgent cases and medium and high-risk pregnancies. Therefore, I ask the cabinet secretary in his closing speech to confirm whether there are options available for rural hospitals such as the Galloway community hospital and Dr Gray’s. I also ask him whether the review is looking at the whole multidisciplinary team with regard to the required skills and competence and the support that is needed to re-establish an obstetrician-led team at Dr Gray’s. In my experience as a clinical nurse educator in NHS Dumfries and Galloway before coming to the Parliament, I know how important it is to have safety as the number 1 priority.

I welcome the debate and the action that the Scottish Government is taking to allow for the re-establishment of a consultant-led maternity service at Dr Gray’s hospital in Elgin. I repeat my ask that the cabinet secretary explores innovative ways for rural health board settings, such as in Galloway and Elgin, to continue to deliver to meet the needs of the local people.

Photo of Carol Mochan Carol Mochan Labour

I commend the motion from Mr Ross, who has highlighted a concerning trend in which the importance to women of giving birth in their local area with friends and family nearby is not being recognised as it should be.

The motion is one of many that have been put before the Scottish Parliament by local representatives from across the country who have been forced to confront the closure or downgrading of important wards that serve communities and that are already concerningly understaffed. Importantly, in this case, the local health board assured the community that the downgrading of the unit at Dr Gray’s would be temporary, yet it is still waiting for the return of the consultant-led service. At this time, we recognise the importance of experienced local medical staff—the Covid outbreak has brought to our attention how important local services are.

It is clear that expectant mothers now have more choices than ever. In my area of Ayrshire and Arran, an increasing number of women are choosing to give birth at home. I am sure that the decision to choose that option has been influenced by the pandemic. Of course, the ability to make that choice has been made possible only through the expertise, hard work and dedication of a passionate group of staff—midwives, consultants and other team members—who have worked to improve care provision for women and families across the region. I talked to a first-time mum who could not praise highly enough the service that she has received. She stressed to me that the fact that it was a local service was really important to her. She said that if she had had to go far away from family and friends, she would have found that much more difficult.

As we know, the provision of support throughout pregnancy and during the process of giving birth is absolutely vital, and it is important that women are given the option to have the best care as close to home as is reasonable. I am sure that, like so many other maternity wards, the hospital in Elgin needs a consultant-led service to be restored, as Emma Harper highlighted. We need to ensure that maternity departments have dedicated facilities for women who, for example, are experiencing unexpected pregnancy complications, and to turn a new page in pre and postnatal care that will make Scotland—including all its rural parts—the envy of the world.

The subject of maternity services is extremely important, and I hope that, in time, we will return to the chamber to discuss the vital services and care for women and families that are provided in maternity units.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

I call Humza Yousaf to wind up the debate.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

As is customary, I thank Douglas Ross for lodging his motion. I wish him, Krystle and Alistair well in the journey ahead. I know from my wife’s experience of giving birth to our daughter Amal that babies can be unpredictable and do not always arrive on schedule when they are meant to. I wish Douglas Ross and, importantly, his wife the best of health, notwithstanding everything that has been discussed today. I hope that she stays on a green pathway.

I thank all the members who have spoken in the debate, who have all spoken exceptionally well. It is clear to me that the campaign to restore the consultant-led maternity unit at Dr Gray’s hospital in Elgin is a cross-party campaign: one that is not mired in politics but which has involved people with very different political ideologies from across the political spectrum coming together to demand—rightly, I think—the unit’s restoration.

I thank the members who have already contacted me on the issue—Karen Adam has written to me about it, and Richard Lochhead has raised it with me in his capacity as the local constituency member. They have asked me, as I think that Douglas Ross might have done in his speech, to meet the Keep MUM campaign and to visit Dr Gray’s at an appropriate point. I absolutely commit to doing that; I know that my predecessor did so on a couple of occasions.

I want to thank the Keep MUM campaign group, which, as we have heard from the local representatives, is a formidable group. It is clear that Keep MUM continues to express anxiety and concern on behalf of mothers and families in Elgin and the wider Moray area. I will, of course, do what my predecessor did and engage directly with that group.

From the outset, I reaffirm my commitment to the full restoration of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s. As has been mentioned, from the outset, my predecessor as health secretary, Jeane Freeman, committed to the reinstatement of obstetric maternity services in a safe and sustainable way. I emphasise the need for safety. I know that nobody takes that issue for granted.

There is no member who does not wish to see those services fully restored to Dr Gray’s as quickly as possible. However, we have to ensure that that is done in a manner that is both safe and sustainable. No one in Elgin or the wider Moray area wants the services to be restored only for them to be removed once again. I will touch on how Ralph Roberts’s review will help us to get to a position in which the services are safe and sustainable. It is important that I discuss some of the background for those who are watching, but I will not go too far into it.

It is in everyone’s interests that the services are restored in a safe and sustainable way. At the Scottish Government’s request, NHS Grampian produced plans for the reintroduction of paediatric and obstetric maternity services. The phase 1 plan for safe delivery of care was approved in late 2018 and, in April 2019, the phase 2 plan for the reintroduction of paediatric and obstetric maternity services was approved. In line with that plan, a revised paediatric service model was introduced in late 2019.

Progress on the implementation of the obstetric elements of the plan was delayed in 2019 in light of emerging concerns in relation to anaesthetic support services, and pending conclusion of a safety report that NHS Grampian had commissioned. That report was published in February 2020. Then Covid struck and NHS resources were prioritised to focus on fighting the pandemic.

The purpose of explaining the background is not to give some sort of excuse to Douglas Ross or any other member—they are right to be angry, anxious and frustrated at the time it has taken to get to this point, let alone to achieve the restoration of the service. However, it is important to explain that, throughout the process, we have always been guided by the safety concerns and issues regarding the full restoration of the services.

Photo of Douglas Ross Douglas Ross Conservative

The cabinet secretary is right to focus on safety. We all accept and understand that, even with a full consultant-led service, a minority of women will be unable to give birth in Dr Gray’s in Elgin and would have to go to Aberdeen. However, those women should be the minority and not, as is currently the case, the majority. There is also a safety issue for those expectant mums—who are often in labour—who have to travel. It may be only 70 miles from Elgin or anywhere in Moray to Aberdeen, but passing the Glens of Foudland in winter is not an easy journey for people in any condition, let alone for women in labour. We must also consider the safety of those who have to travel to give birth or while they are in labour.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Douglas Ross is absolutely correct to raise those points. For those who have been in that position—whether they are the mothers who are giving birth or the fathers waiting anxiously in the room—there cannot be a worse moment for that journey to be undertaken. Douglas Ross is right that there is a safety issue. That is why, once again, I fully recommit the Scottish Government to the restoration in full of those consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s.

Douglas Ross and Karen Adam were right to push the Government in relation to milestones and timescales. I can hear the exasperation in the voices of the members—no doubt the Keep MUM campaign group will feel the same—that another review has been commissioned. I am delighted that, as Douglas Ross and others have mentioned in their speeches, the review led by Ralph Roberts has been welcomed. The remit, thoroughness and, importantly, engagement of that review have been welcomed. We must remember that that engagement has been taking place during the Covid pandemic. Having spoken to Ralph Roberts, I know that he would have preferred to have been able to engage personally and one to one, but perhaps there will be an opportunity to do that as restrictions ease.

I will not pre-empt the independent review—if I did, it would not be particularly independent—but it should be concluded in late summer, so hopefully it will not be too long at all. We will consider the recommendations and set out the milestones and timescales, exactly as Douglas Ross has asked us to do. I understand the need for urgency and we will move as quickly as we can.

I am conscious of time, but I want to cover the point that Edward Mountain raised about the issues in Caithness, although I will not go into the details of those issues. Mr Mountain probably has the details of the best start programme but, if he does not, I would be happy to write to him with details on the best start north review that was commissioned jointly by NHS Grampian and NHS Highland. In recognition of the unique nature and complexity of delivering maternity and neonatal services in the north of Scotland, that collaborative approach was established to examine the model of care in the north, in consultation with local people, to develop the best possible sustainable model for the future.

I will take away the issues that Mr Mountain raises about Caithness. I will ensure that I ask whether they are part of that best start north review and I will write to him after the debate.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

The debate is on Dr Gray’s and we are well over time, so I ask the cabinet secretary to conclude his speech.

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I am happy to write to Edward Mountain and speak to him offline.

I thank Douglas Ross for bringing the motion to the attention of the Parliament. I congratulate Karen Adam on her first speech. I also thank all members who have brought the issue to my attention. I will meet the Keep MUM campaign group and I will come up to Elgin to see Dr Gray’s for myself. After we have received the report of the independent review, I will update the Parliament. Once again, I reiterate the Government’s intention to fully restore maternity services at Dr Gray’s hospital.

Meeting closed at 18:31.