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.