WATCH: Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care visits Highlands to address maternity provision concerns in Inverness, Elgin and Caithness
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The safety of expectant mothers across the Highlands will be put at “the front and centre” of any future provision of maternity services, the health secretary has pledged.
Humza Yousaf, the Scottish Government Health Minister, made the pledge yesterday (Monday) when he met clinicians at Raigmore Hospital, Inverness.
He was responding to concerns from across the region, particularly in Elgin and Caithness where maternity services have been deemed lacking by NHS staff.
Maternity services were downgraded at Dr Gray's Hospital in Elgin in 2018 due to staff shortages.
Since then more than 80 per cent of Moray mums have faced the long and potentially dangerous trip to Aberdeen to give birth.
Similarly many Caithness parents have faced long trips south to Raigmore due to a lack of maternity provision in the far north.
Among the concerns raised at yesterday's meeting, Mr Yousaf said, were the “physical constraints of the estate at Raigmore” and “the recruitment and retention” of staff across the entire health board.
He said: “I know there is work underway to review maternity services across the Highlands and of course Caithness will be part of that.
“I think we need to remind ourselves and make sure we don't forget the tragic circumstances whereby the changes to Caithness came about.
“One assurance I have got and hope to be able to give is that women and their babies safety will be at the front and centre of any decisions made in terms of future provision of our services.”
Mr Yousaf added that he would be hoping “first and foremost as a father” that he would not dismiss concerns from any worried parents to be.
He added: “The second thing I would like to say to them, and I would hope it would give some level of comfort, is that their safety and the safety of their unborn child is our number one priority.
“And that means making really difficult decisions that are unpopular and people don't like but I won't apologise for putting their safety front and centre.”
Asked if he would make the journey to Caithness to see the journey that some mothers are facing, My Yousaf said he would not take part in “tokenistic” gestures.
He said: “I'm not an expectant mother so to suggest that I would be able to know what an expectant mother would be going through by simply driving up and down that road – I think frankly is a bit tokenistic.
“I'm happy to speak to expectant mothers, I'm happy to speak to women who have had to make that journey.
“I think that's far more valuable than for example than doing the journey and getting a couple of clips for the camera and doing some kind of media stunt.”
He added: “I wanted to get a sense, face to face, what the clincians thoughts were with the current maternity services and any concerns they had with the Moray maternity services review and more generally across the Highlands.
“And it's fair to say they expressed those concerns directly to me and actually said to me pretty frankly they need investment regardless of what happens in Moray, when you look at the Highland picture they need investment.”