Maternity Services (Caithness)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 2nd February 2023.

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Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

1. To ask the Scottish Government whether it will conduct an independent review into the maternity model in Caithness. (S6O-01860)

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

The maternity model in Caithness was put in place by NHS Highland following a review that was led by Professor Hugo van Woerden, who was then NHS Highland’s director of public health, following the tragic death of a full-term baby at the unit in 2015. The report of the review, which included two external reviews, recommended that the maternity unit in Caithness move to a midwife-led unit to address safety issues. That change was unanimously agreed by NHS Highland’s board.

The model of care that operates in Caithness is, of course, similar to models that operate in other parts of NHS Highland and, indeed, other NHS boards in Scotland.

Rhoda Grant will be aware of the work that is under way in the best start north review, which was commissioned jointly by NHS Grampian, NHS Highland and the three island health boards. The work of the review group was paused during Covid, but it recently restarted, led by the directors of midwifery from all six northern boards.

Photo of Rhoda Grant Rhoda Grant Labour

The cabinet secretary has carried out independent reviews of Moray maternity services, and he has now commenced a review in Dumfries and Galloway. The review that was carried out by NHS Highland was not independent of NHS Highland, and concerns about maternity services have been on-going since the change was made back in 2016, when obstetric cover was removed. Women have to travel over 100 miles to give birth. That is like asking a woman from Edinburgh to travel to Newcastle to give birth. It is absolutely unacceptable.

Will the cabinet secretary stop the centralisation of maternity services away from Caithness, admit that that was a mistake and commit to having a full, independent review as soon as possible?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

I regret the tone and implication of Ms Grant’s question. As I stated in my original answer, it is important for us to remember that the review was carried out after the tragic death of a full-term baby at the unit in 2015. Those were the circumstances behind why there was a review. Two external reviews were included as part of the overall review. On the basis and the back of that tragic death, the review recommended that Caithness move to a midwife-led unit to address the safety issues.

Ms Grant was wrong to say that I have commissioned an independent review in relation to maternity services in Wigtownshire. The local health board decided to commence an independent review of maternity services in Wigtownshire on 18 January. That is a decision for the health board. The health board in Highland is, of course, part of the best start north review, which will look at how maternity services operate throughout Highland. I hope that Rhoda Grant will collaborate with and take part in that review—she undoubtedly will.

Photo of Edward Mountain Edward Mountain Conservative

Can the cabinet secretary confirm whether the Scottish Government has reviewed the conclusions of the risk assessments for each maternity patient in labour who has been transferred from Caithness general hospital to Raigmore hospital? If it has not done so, will it?

Photo of Humza Yousaf Humza Yousaf Scottish National Party

Again, those are important decisions and important risk assessments for local health boards to take. Of course I understand the concerns that are legitimately raised by

Edward Mountain and Rhoda Grant.

I met the Caithness Health Action Team—or CHAT—campaign group last year. As a result of that, I know that there are now face-to-face formal meetings between NHS Highland and the campaign group.

NHS Highland has in place protocols to mitigate the risks associated with the transfer of pregnant women, particularly in an emergency situation. The best start north review has commenced, and I encourage Edward Mountain, as I encouraged Rhoda Grant, to engage with that review.