Highlands & Islands

Concerns over expectant mums' 100-mile trip to hospital

Baby Image copyright PA

Two expectant mothers had to make their own arrangements to get to a hospital more than 100 miles (160.9km) away in bad weather, it has emerged.

The cases have been highlighted by campaigners amid concerns about changes to a baby unit at Wick.

A car taking one of the women to Inverness skidded off the A9 in the snowy and icy conditions last week.

NHS Highland said the arrangements were the same as had been in place and "used successfully" for a number of years.

The health board also said that all pregnant women are advised to call 999 if they experience difficulties while en-route to hospital.

Nicola Sinclair, of Caithness Health Action Team (Chat) which opposes what it sees as the downgrading of services at Caithness General, said the women's experiences added to campaigners' concerns about the level of health services in the area.

Preparations are being made to change the operation of maternity services at Caithness General in Wick, where the two women were clinically assessed before being advised to travel to Raigmore in Inverness.

A midwife-led community maternity unit (CMU) is to be in place at the hospital in Wick at the end of this month, earlier than previously expected. In November last year, the health board had anticipated introducing the change by April.

The changes to maternity services were recommended following a report into the "potentially avoidable" death of a newborn baby at Caithness General.

Maternity services are currently led by consultant obstetricians, but the hospital has no facilities for on-site specialist neonatal paediatric support or adult intensive care.

NHS Highland requires that certain deliveries, including elective caesarean sections and pregnancies involving complications, be handled at Raigmore.

The new CMU set up would still see such pregnancies handled at the Inverness hospital.

The two women went into labour last week - one on Thursday and the other on Saturday.

The Met Office had yellow "be aware" warning in place at the time about snow showers and freezing temperatures.

'Good care'

Ms Sinclair, of Chat, said one of the women's cars came off the road on the way to Inverness.

She said the woman had no complaints about the "good care" she received from staff during her assessment at the hospital in Wick.

However, Ms Sinclair said the incident underlined concerns about arrangements for pregnant women in Caithness and neighbouring Sutherland.

She said the expectant mother was advised, as per protocols, to make arrangement to get to Inverness. Neither a road or air ambulance were offered to get her there, added Ms Sinclair.

At first the woman could not begin her journey to south because of the bad weather.

Ms Sinclair said: "At this point in the morning the road was closed, so she had no option but to go to home and wait for the labour to progress.

"By 11:30 she was ready to be sent down to Inverness because the contractions were minutes apart and she was advised to make her way down.

"She actually skidded off the road and had to get a 4x4 to get down."

'Dial 999'

NHS Highland said that in terms of the women's transport, the arrangements and contingency plans were the same as those that have been in place and "used successfully for a number of years".

A spokesman said: "During the recent spate of bad weather, like elsewhere in Highland our team in Caithness was in close contact with Police Scotland about local road closures and any women who were clinically assessed before being advised to travel were given up-to-date information on road conditions.

"As we do for all women, advice is that if they experience any problems en-route they should dial 999. Neither the Caithness nor Raigmore maternity teams received any calls last Thursday regarding difficulties in travel due to weather conditions.

"If such a call had been received, the time of admission could have been revised in line with improved weather conditions."

He added: "We are currently looking to review the information that we give to women who are booked for elective caesarean sections and induction of labour across Highland."

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