Dr Gray’s Maternity Unit

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

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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.