Highlands & Islands

Caithness midwife unit for patient safety, says Sturgeon

Baby's hand

Nicola Sturgeon has said the setting up of a midwife-led maternity unit at Caithness General would be done in the interests of patient safety.

NHS Highland's plan for the future shape of maternity services at the hospital in Wick was raised at First Minister's Questions (FMQs).

The move is opposed by a local campaigners who want obstetricians to still be available to the hospital.

Pregnancies with complications are to be handled in Inverness under the plan.

Inverness' Raigmore Hospital is about 102 miles (165 km) from Wick.

At FMQs in Holyrood, Conservative MSP Edward Mountain told how a woman was in labour in an ambulance while being taken from Wick to Inverness.

He said women giving birth faced a journey time of two-and-a-half hours to get from Caithness to the city hospital by road ambulance, and longer if the weather was bad.

Caithness General maternity services

Image copyright PA
  • The maternity unit at the hospital is currently led by consultant obstetricians, but it has no facilities for on-site specialist neonatal paediatric support or adult intensive care
  • NHS Highland carried out a review of the services following a newborn baby's death at the Wick hospital in 2015. Shortly after the death, NHS Highland said it was "potentially avoidable" if there had been "more timely and immediate access" to advanced support in Inverness. The health board found no failings in the care provided by individual staff
  • A report on the review, released on 18 November, recommended that Community Midwife Unit (CMU) and that services at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness be "strengthened" to help support this unit
  • NHS Highland's board has been asked to approve this plan at a meeting on 29 November

Ms Sturgeon said NHS Highland's plan was backed by a review of maternity services at Caithness General.

She said the health board was not proposing to consult on setting up a Community Midwife Unit (CMU) at Wick, and the plan would not be put before ministers.

The first minister said: "However, they are proposing to consult widely on the proposal to strengthen services in Raigmore and provide facilities for parents to make sure they meet local concerns.

"I hope all members will recognise that where a report makes a recommendation on the basis of patient safety, and it is clearly on the basis of patient safety, it is incumbent upon the local NHS board to act accordingly."

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