HEALTH MATTERS: Maternity services are a hugely important part of what we do at NHS Highland
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WE know that giving children the best start in life has an impact on their health throughout their lifetime. And of course, having a baby can be both an exciting and an anxious time for parents.
We need to listen to what parents want and offer advice on the best and safest care, before, during and after birth.
In the Highland Council area, we have a consultant-led maternity unit at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, and community midwifery units in Caithness, Skye and Fort William. Low-risk births can take place in the community midwifery units, with our skilled and experienced midwives. Those assessed as being higher risk are recommend to take place in Raigmore, where there are specialist doctors available, as well as a neonatal unit, should the baby need it.
You may have heard that a review of maternity services at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin recently recommended that, in a medium-term plan, women in Moray should be offered the choice of giving birth at Raigmore Hospital, while longer-term plans for the return of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s are put in place.
Our teams here at NHS Highland are working with colleagues in NHS Grampian and Dr Gray’s Hospital to put plans in place to understand what it would take to make this work in practice. We will also be asking families and those with recent experience of our services for input, understanding that the choices for families is really important.
As part of this redesign, we will be improving and expanding the maternity area at Raigmore. Families will see new rooms with fresher décor and more en-suite facilities. Importantly, we will also be recruiting more maternity staff so that they can spend more time with new mothers, families and their babies. We will be looking at lots of opportunities to increase staffing, including international recruitment, if appropriate.
We will also be looking at how we can improve support for community midwifery units, and in particular how we can increase the potential for midwives to support mothers from booking, to delivery, and with postnatal care, as we know that continuity is important to people.
Our plans will be submitted to the Scottish Government this summer, with NHS Grampian plans for implementation of consultant-led care at Dr Gray’s due to be submitted by the end of the year. Although it is difficult to accurately predict timescales, we aim to complete the necessary building work at Raigmore, and recruit the new staff over the next two years and start offering Inverness as a birth location to Moray mothers soon after that.
In the meantime, our highly skilled and dedicated colleagues will continue to offer high-quality care and support mothers and families across the Highlands.
As Covid restrictions are eased, we will be looking at whether we can return to delivering more care face-to-face. We have learnt a lot from Covid, and also want to deliver services in a way that suits mothers and their families, so where remote or virtual services can be provided more regularly than face-to-face, we will aim to offer that option too.
We are always seeking better ways to engage with mums and families, and also maternity and neonatal colleagues, and gather feedback to help improve services. This will help us to tailor services to meet needs and expectations as far as possible – both for our local Highland population and, where appropriate, mothers from Moray and visitors to the Highlands. If you would like to share your views on the service, please email nhsh.maternityandneonatal
Dr Constantinos Yiangou is deputy medical director (acute) at NHS Highland.