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Soaring caesarean rate in far north exposes maternity failings, says MSP


By David G Scott

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The number of women having caesarean births in the far north has rocketed in the past five years as maternity services have been cut, says Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain.

New figures have shown 43.4 per cent of Highland births in 2022/23 were caesareans, compared to 33.4 per cent in 2017/18.

And while the national average itself is on the rise, the hike in the north of Scotland is significantly above average and the state of maternity services across the region has been criticised.

Edward Mountain, MSP outside Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Edward Mountain, MSP outside Raigmore Hospital. Picture: James Mackenzie.

Scottish Conservative Highlands and Islands MSP Edward Mountain said: “Five years ago the C-section rate in the Highlands was pretty much on a par with the national average. But since the maternity downgrades have taken place across the area, more women from places like Caithness have had to make long and often dangerous journeys to Inverness.

“That must go some way to explaining why the rate has increased so much, and to such a greater extent than the national average. In simple terms, Scottish Government decisions to strip the Highlands of vital health and maternity resources has contributed to a far higher rate of caesarean births.

“That is a stark situation, and one that requires and urgent explanation from the Scottish Government.”

North MSP Edward Mountain pictured at the Pulteney Centre in Wick after a public meeting discussing NHS issues. Picture: DGS
North MSP Edward Mountain pictured at the Pulteney Centre in Wick after a public meeting discussing NHS issues. Picture: DGS

Earlier this month, the Scottish Government confirmed that a capital programme to upgrade Raigmore hospital’s maternity unit had been paused. This is despite First Minister Humza Yousaf describing the postponed improvement work as “much required and much needed”.

The situation means women from all across the region – who used to be able to depend on good maternity services in rural hospitals in areas like Caithness – have to travel to Inverness to give birth to ensure specialists are on hand in case anything goes wrong.

Mr Mountain, who has been campaigning for a replacement Raigmore hospital and improved maternity services in other parts of the Highlands, said the Public Health Scotland (PHS) figures proved there was an issue. “Caesarean births of course have a place – but they should only go ahead if it’s what the doctor or the mother in labour wants. These figures show us – unless there is an unusual thirst for C-sections in this specific part of the world – that we have a problem," he said.

The figures were published by PHS here under “multi-indicator overview” – scotland.shinyapps.io/phs-pregnancy-births-neonatal/

They showed the following caesarean rates for NHS Highlands in the last five years:

2017/18 – 33.4 per cent

2018/19 – 35.3 per cent

2019/20 – 38.2 per cent

2020/21 – 38.1 per cent

2021/22 – 41.1 per cent

2022/23 – 43.5 per cent

They showed the following caesarean rates for Scotland in the last five years:

2017/18 – 32.5 per cent

2018/19 – 33.5 per cent

2019/20 – 34.5 per cent

2020/21 – 36 per cent

2021/22 – 37.5 per cent

2022/23 – 39.2 per cent


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