Dr Gray’s Maternity Unit

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament on 15th June 2021.

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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.