Douglas Ross has told MSPs of a woman whose baby’s heartbeat stopped on her way to hospital – as he raised concerns over the long journeys having to be made due to a downgrading in maternity services.
The Scottish Conservative MSP, who has previously spoken of his fear that his pregnant wife may have had to give birth in a lay-by during a 65-mile journey to the specialist Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, raised the issue at FMQs on Thursday.
Ross pointed to a downgrading in services across the north of Scotland as he called for the findings of an independent review into services in Moray to be addressed.
The document, published last month, stated that it is right to be “more ambitious with the scope of maternity services currently provided for the Moray population”, amongst its findings.
In the short-term, the report made recommendation for a Community Maternity Unit (midwife-led) in Dr Gray’s (hospital in Elgin), with access to consultant intrapartum care in Raigmore or Aberdeen.
The report said that this would see an increase in the proportion of births taking place in Raigmore, which is geographically closer to home for a percentage of women in Moray.
But, Ross highlighted the concerns of clinicians who expressed their belief that the findings were ‘unworkable’ and ‘unsafe’.
Raising the issue, Ross told First Minister Nicola Sturgeon: “More than three-and-a-half years ago, maternity services in Moray were downgraded, after a similar downgrade in Caithness Hospital.
“It means that now hundreds of women will have to travel long distances, often in labour, to give birth or to receive treatment at Raigmore in Inverness.
“(Health secretary) Humza Yousaf stood in this chamber on December 7 responding to the independent review into maternity services in Moray and told me that he, and I quote, ‘absolutely believed that there is capacity in place to deal with the additional women who may have to go to Raigmore’.
“But that confidence isn’t shared by more than a dozen clinical experts who have written to the health secretary about the report.
“They said that the findings were ‘unworkable’ and ‘unsafe’. They wrote privately to the health secretary, but when he didn’t respond to them, they went public.
“So, what does the First Minister say to mums to be and families who are in fear during their pregnancy about how far away help and support will be?
“And since her health secretary hasn’t responded to the clinicians on the frontline, will she address their concerns about their proposals?”
The First Minister said that the report was “thorough and substantial” and gave an assurance to local people that the issues of patient safety will be subject to the “most serious and careful consideration”.
She responded: “The safety of pregnant women, of mothers and babies, is the absolute paramount imperative of the Government, and I know it is too of clinicians working on the frontline.
“Obviously, a report into the issues of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s and the implications for Raigmore was commissioned.
“That report was thorough and substantial, the Cabinet secretary has met with staff, the boards and local people, I think before Christmas and the Scottish Government is considering all of the recommendations very carefully.
“It is important that we get this right, it is absolutely important we that we recognise the desire, understandable and important desire, of women to give birth as close to home as possible.
“But it is also really important that we don’t lose sight of the issues of patient safety and I can give an assurance to the Chamber, but more importantly to local people, that all of these issues will be subject to the most serious and careful consideration.”
Ross recalled the experience of one mother who thought that she had lost her baby and that she would also die whilst being taken to hospital in Aberdeen.
“The future of maternity services at Dr Gray’s Hospital has consequences for mothers all over the North-East and the Highlands,” he said.
“This has impacted my own family, but it’s caused far greater problems for many others.
“Here’s one example from the recent review into maternity services and these are the words of a mum – ‘I had been told that if I had a bleed before giving birth, the chances were slim that I would survive and consequently, neither would my baby’.
“‘I spent months in constant fear that I would bleed, then the worst happened and I started bleeding at home’.
“I was transferred initially to Dr Gray’s, then to Aberdeen in a blue light ambulance. The bleeding did initially stop and I was told my baby had a heartbeat’.
“‘But when the bleeding started again on the way to Aberdeen, I was told the heartbeat was gone. I therefore thought my baby was dead and it was likely I was next’.”
Ross added: “First Minister, this is going to happen to more and more women the longer this is allowed to go on.
“When doctors and midwives are saying that options on the table won’t work, what is the First Minister and her government going to do about it ? And why are they not responding to these medical experts?”
The First Minister outlined the importance of the recommendations in the report being considered “extremely carefully”.
She said: “Can I firstly acknowledge the personal experience here. Many of us, myself included, have personal experiences around baby loss at different stages and therefore I absolutely understand the emotion, the sensitivity and the seriousness of these issues.
“The Scottish Government commissioned the report, conducted by Ralph Roberts, as part of a commitment to the re-introduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and a sustainable way, and that is really important.
“The report that has been published is a substantial report, it’s very thorough and it is important that all of the recommendations in that report are considered extremely carefully.
“The Government will meet again with NHS Grampian, with NHS Highland, to look at practical next steps and core to that of course will be listening to clinicians at Raigmore in any further discussions.
“And the health secretary I think has already indicated, but if not I will indicate that now, is of course prepared and it is important that he meets with clinicians at Raigmore.
“Of course, there is the mum campaigning group, who also have views on the recent review and report, and that has to be listened to as well.
“The most important thing here is that maternity services are safe for women and for their babies.”First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
The First Minister added: “I do not at all underplay the seriousness of this, nor do I deny or challenge in any way how important it is to all women to give birth as close to home as possible.
“And that’s not just something that is desirable, there are many good clinical reasons for that as well and also good support reasons for that.
“But the most important thing, and I think it is acknowledged and underpins the questions that are being asked here as well, the most important thing here is, because there have been experiences in the past that drive some of this, the most important thing is that maternity services are safe for women and for their babies.
“And that’s the principle that will drive all of the decisions that are arrived at, and those decisions will of course be informed by all those who have opinions, or indeed clinical expertise to bring to bear.”