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Maternity Eye On 2003-04 Index

Eye On Index

Maternity Issue

1 April 04

The Highland Council has repeated its call on the NHS Highland Board to delay issuing a consultation on the future delivery of maternity services in Caithness and North Sutherland until a social and economic impact study, to be commissioned jointly by the Council and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, is completed.

Convener Councillor Alison Magee and Caithness Area Convener Councillor David Flear also argue that the newly-formed Board, which meets for the first time on Tuesday (6 April), should be allowed to settle into their new jobs before taking such a far-reaching decision and that the holiday months during the summer are not the most appropriate time to consult with the public.

The Board is being recommended to consult for three months from June on only two of the five options, which were highlighted in an independent report prepared by a review team, led by Professor Andrew Calder on behalf of the former Highland Acute Hospitals Trust.

The Board is being advised to rule out enhancing the existing specialist services; maintaining the status quo of consultant-led services; and discontinuing inpatient deliveries in Caithness as these are deemed to be "unrealistic unsustainable and unnecessary". Instead it is suggested the Board consult on options, which point towards a midwifery-led service through alternative models of provision of specialist obstetricians or via the community maternity unit model.

With Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Council is jointly funding an independent assessment of the impact on localities of options for a change in rural clinical health services in Caithness and Lochaber.

It is hoped that a contractor will be chosen before the end of this month and work on the Caithness element of the work will be concluded by the end of August. The Council believes the NHS Health Board should not decide the options for consultation until this work is completed.

Councillor Magee said: "I am disappointed that a recommendation is going before the NHS Board on Tuesday recommending consultation on only two of the five options considered by Professor Calder in his review of maternity services in Caithness.

"Nothing should be ruled in or out until we know the results of the social/economic study that we are about to commission. It may be that the study will identify other options worth pursuing, based on what works elsewhere and in other countries.

"I also believe it is unfair to ask a new board to take such an important decision at its first meeting. I can see nothing to gain by the undue haste which is being recommended and everything to gain by delaying the process for important information and fuller community involvement."

Councillor Flear said: "When the Board consults with the public over the options it considers are most appropriate for the future provision of maternity services, it must have at its disposal all the facts, including the social impact on families and the impact on the local economy."

He said the Caithness community would be extremely disappointed if the Board accepted the recommendation of its chief executive to consult on only two of the options, given the clear desire of the Council and the local community for all options to remain open at this stage.

He noted that Depute Health and Community Care Minister, Tom McCabe, had said that the NHS Board should take account of the impact assessment before making any changes to the service.

He said: "The Board owes it to the people of Caithness to take its time over this consultation and get it right. The Board needs to consider a wide range of social and economic issues - as well as a clinical review of the consultant-led service - and should not confirm the options for consultation until the independent study is completed."