Douglas Ross: Pregnant women face ‘lengthy and distressing journeys’

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Douglas Ross said women in the Highlands were being forced into ‘into lengthy and distressing journeys’ because of maternity service downgrades (Katie Collins/PA) (PA Archive)
Douglas Ross said women in the Highlands were being forced into ‘into lengthy and distressing journeys’ because of maternity service downgrades (Katie Collins/PA) (PA Archive)

Nicola Sturgeon has been challenged about “unworkable and unsafe” changes to maternity services that “force pregnant women into lengthy and distressing journeys” to give birth.

Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross raised concerns of senior midwives and obstetricians in the Highlands about the downgrading of maternity services.

In a letter to Scotland’s Health Secretary 18 maternity staff at Raigmore Hospital described plans for pregnant women in Moray to travel to give birth in Inverness as “unworkable and unsafe”, Mr Ross said.

Humza Yousaf has reportedly failed to respond to the concerns and, at First Minister’s Questions, Mr Ross said the maternity workers were “at the end of their tether trying to get a response and they’re worried if he’s really going to listen”.

It's unacceptable to force pregnant women into lengthy and distressing journeys

Douglas Ross

Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish Government had to “strike the right balance between quality specialist care and care as close to home as possible” but insisted that the safety of pregnant women and their babies was the priority.

The First Minister said: “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.”

She added a “substantial report” had been published into maternity services in Moray and that the Government was considering the recommendations and “practical next steps”.

But Mr Ross said: “Over the last 15 years of this Government, the temporary or permanent closure of maternity units has reduced services in Inverclyde, Paisley, Skye, Caithness, Angus, Perth, and Dumfries.

“It’s unacceptable to force pregnant women into lengthy and distressing journeys.”

Mr Ross, the MP for Moray and North East region MSP, recounted the story of a mum who was told that her baby only had a slim chance of survival if she suffered a bleed before birth.

She started bleeding at home and was taken to Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin but had to be transferred to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness. Her baby’s heartbeat stopped en route.

Mr Ross said: “This is going to happen to more and more women, the longer this is allowed to go on.

“When doctors and midwives are saying the options on the table wouldn’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?”

Ms Sturgeon replied: “I do not at all underplay the seriousness of this, nor do I deny or challenge in any way how important is it to all women to give birth as close to home as possible.

“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.”

She added: “We recognise the understandable and important desire of women to give birth to 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.”

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