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Eye On Maternity Services
What The Newspapers Are Saying

John O'Groat Journal 9 February 2001
Expectant mothers forced to travel south in the "horrendous" weather experienced this week would be subjected to an "unacceptable risk" according to a local campaigner.
Councillor Deirdre Steven said the wintry conditions in Caithness over the past week reinforced the argument that putting expectant mothers south to have their babies at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness was "imposing a risk that ought not to be there".
Mrs Steven a member of the MUMS campaign for the retention of the consultant led maternity services in the county, explained that having to travel to Inverness herself on Tuesday to attend Highland council meetings had "brought it home to me what a mother and an ambulance crew would have to deal with".
She told the John O'Groat Journal:"It was horrendous and alarming.  Between wick and Thrumster was bad, and there was whiteout conditions at Dunbeath and the Ord.
"It was a practical experience in how unacceptable it would be.  We just can't afford to go back in time."
Local people fear that the current Highland-wide review of maternity services could lead to the down grading of the service offered at Caithness General hospital in Wick.
If the three consultant gynaecologist/obstetrician posts are removed from the equation and the unit is converted to a midwife-led service then potentially problematic pregnancies many of which can now be handled at Wick would go automatically to Inverness.
This, said Mrs Steven would increase the number of expectant mothers having to travel in bad weather and increase the risks to them.
Earlier this week with roads only passable with extreme care, trains delayed with one stuck in the snow, and air travel cancelled, "to all intents and purposes Caithness was marooned", said Mrs Steven.  she called on Highland Maternity Services Advisory Group, which carried out the review, to take note of this.
Her concerns were echoed by Far north MSP Jamie Stoner, who said that given the weather conditions over the past few days there was "no better time to advocate the necessity of rural maternity unit".
Mr stone said: "The fiendish weather conditions this week highlight the fact that it is both unacceptable and ridiculous, not to mention dangerous, to expect mothers to be to undertake a journey to Inverness when there is excellent maternity provision much closer at hand.
"The campaign to save the maternity unit at Wick has to be as broadly based as possible - from the local GP's to the mums and dads themselves.  everyone must speak as one voice".
As part of the Caithness and north Sutherland end  of the maternity review, two public meetings have been organised by the local reference group.  These will take place in Wick on March 12 and in Thurso on March 13.

Caithness Courier
31 January 2001
Local MSP Jamie Stone has urged people to make their views known at the Highland-wide review of maternity services gets under way in the Far north.
The Caihtness and Sutherland reference group, set up as part of the review, holds its first meeting in with representatives of the Highland Maternity Services Advisory Group today.
Meanwhile Mr Stone is calling on his constituents not to let this "vital" opportunity pass to make sure that the maternity service run from Caithness General Hospital is maintained.
Mr Stone said that the advisory group which is undertaking the review, has promised widespread consultation, and he now wants local people to become actively involved in that.
"I believe that it's utterly essential that as many people as possible in Caithness & Sutherland write in and make their views known," said the Liberal Democrat MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross.
"IT would be tragic if failure to speak up led to a threat to the maternity unit.
These weeks and months ahead are going to be vital.  I intend to make my arguments and would urge everybody to join the chorus."
Mr Stone added that he had received many extremely positive letters about the issue from constituents and these he intends to pass on to the advisory group.
The Caithness and Sutherland members will meet in Wick with Helen Bryers, who is co-ordinating the review on a day-to-day basis, and public-health facilitator Jane Groves to kick-start the review process locally.  Today's meeting will serve to bring those involved together and discuss with local members how the review process has been organised.
Such a meeting has already taken place in Lochaber, leaving five other local reference groups in the Highlands to through the same procedure.  These local reference groups will gather information on maternity provision in their own areas and contribute ideas on how services could be adapted and improved.
However, there is genuine concern in Caithness and north Sutherland that the review process is nothing more than an excuse to justify centralising maternity services in Inverness.
A local campaign is already under way led by the MUMS (Maternity Unit must Stay) group, in a bid to pre-empt any potential review conclusion that the local maternity service should lose its consultant gynaecologists/obstetricians.

John O' Groat Journal 9 December
Widespread local consultation promised on maternity issue
Karen Steven reports - 
A report issued this week is promising widespread local consultation as part of the review of maternity services in the Highlands which is due to begin in January.
The county is one of seven areas in which a local reference group will be established to provide "the fullest range of interested parties" to contribute to the debate over service provision in the north.
At a meeting of Highland Health Board in Inverness on Tuesday members accepted in principle a paper by Sally Amor, health promotion strategy adviser/child health commissioner, setting out the overall approach to the review which will be carried out by the Maternity Services Advisory Group.
However MUMS campaigner and Wick councillor Deirdre Steven expressed some disappointment that the paper did not include a timescale in which the review is to take place and a budget for it. 
She accepted the membership of the local reference group was "quite broad". although she queried what mechanisms would be used to choose and nominate a local mother to sit on it for example.
Highland Health Board spokesman Brian Devlin said yesterday that the process to "clarify" a budget for the review and a timescale for it will be decided shortly.  He confirmed that the process would begin in January although he could not be more precise.
According to Sally Amor's report the review should be fully participative, reflect Highland geography and need, and be "driven by a methodology which reflects best practice".
The proposed membership for the local reference group is a representative from the advisory group, a local GP, a locality services manager, a local health council representative, a member of the local community council, a midwife and a mother.
Consulting the wider public has also been considered and it is proposed that "evidence taking events" be held throughout the health board area.
Views will be guaged through locally-held seminar-based events with further opportunities for discussion possible through "maternity services question times" at which a chairperson would steer the meeting through questions from an audience of nominated guests to a panel of experts.  this would allow questions to be heard from a wide range of parties such as community councils, voluntary groups and the wider public interested in the provision of maternity services.
It is also proposed that the Highland Youth Parliament could be utilised to gather views of young people while the Internet could be used to make the review process open and participatory.
The report states "Information about the review process and philosophy could be made available and a bulletin board established inviting online comment"
Users of maternity services are also to be asked for their views, with that aspect focusing on women who have used the service within the past three years.
There is also some merit the report says in the local reference group organising visits to mother and toddler groups.  Not only would this "inform a wider audience of the purpose and intent of the review" but it would "prompt parents to reflect on the service"
Professionals too are to be included in the process - obstetricians, midwives, ambulancemen

John O' Groat Journal
1 December
The JOG front page highlights the local fears with the headline -
Baby Drama 'underlines the importance of Wick unit'
A problem for George and Kerry Mackenzie underlines the importance of a consultant led maternity unit said councillor Deirdre Steven.  Mrs Mackenzie had developed pre-eclampsia which causes blood pressure to rise dramatically.  Mr Mackenzie says he owes the life of his wife and first born child to the specialist maternity unit in wick.  Complications had set in three weeks before she was due to give birth.  The drama on November 16 would have assumed crisis proportions if Kerry had to go south to a hospital as the air ambulance was not available and the A9 road was blocked at Latheron.  Mr Mackenzie says the experience highlights the need to retain the unit.
Mrs Stevens a member of MUMS echoed his sentiments.
" To have the unit downgraded would risk lives"
Mr Tom Jackson Community Council Chairman for Thurso again stated that the concern was the official references to maintain and update clinical skills.  That in some quarters could be used as the sole reason for moving more and more services to Inverness.  He added "Nobody can be in any doubt about what the feelings of the people of Caithness are and that there would be one hell of a battle if there is to be any diminution of the service.
Members of the family and other people expressed similar support for keeping the service at the level it is in the county.

John O'Groat Journal
10 November
The chief executive of the Highland Acute Hospitals NHS Trust is to speak to a future meeting of the royal burgh of Wick Community Council about the maternity services in Caithness.  Mr Richard Carey has been invited to the community council's meeting on Tuesday night but has decided to attend once the review of maternity services by the Highland Maternity Services Review Group is under way.
Community councillors heard that the review, which had been scheduled for October is expected to begin in January.
The MUMS campaign have said this will give them more time to plan their strategy.
The MUMS campaigners have met with the Caithness Economic Partnership in a bid to avoid duplication of effort.  It is expected that the partnership will seek to complement the existing campaign by looking at the economic implications of a reduction of maternity services.

Caithness Courier
25 October
Opposition to closure or downgrading of the maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital is to be expressed in the strongest possible terms to Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon and the Highland Health Board.  Castletown and District Community Council agreed this at their meeting on Thursday.  the chairman John Crowden felt the exercise was driven by financial considerations and would result in a poorer service for the area.  " At the time the Caithness & Sutherland NHS Trust was axed we were told that we would not lose out but things are getting worse.  There is very little evidence of investment here.  Mr Crowden was worried about the consequences of closing or downgrading the wick unit.  "The last thing a pregnant woman wants is to have to sit in the back of an ambulance for two-and-a-half hours to be taken to Raigmore in Inverness."
That view was backed by Mrs Wendy Stark who said such a journey would not be a pleasant experience.  She added "I cannot imagine why this review was thought of in the first place.
Mr Crowden said the community councils association had written to Highland Health board on the issue and had received a brief reply saying that nothing had been decided yet.
Councillor Alastair MacDonald the Highland Council member for Caithness North West agreed but pointed out that at the time the local NHS trusty was under threat almost 98% of the population in the northern counties was against the move.
"Despite that we still lost it" he told the meeting.  "The whole thing was a farce"
Mr MacDonald also pointed out that the loss of a facility such as a consultant led maternity unit could make it harder to attract people to the area.  " They hear about this and it puts them off".
The community councillors agreed to write to Minister Susan Deacon and the Health board in the strongest possible terms expressing their opposition to any plan to close or downgrade the Caithness maternity unit.

John O'Groat Journal
20 October
The meeting had brought together members of various organisations to discuss future strategies.   The group are now looking to expand their membership.  Up for discussion was the resignation of Monica Mouat as chair of the Maternity Services Advisory Group.
MUMS are also seeking to retain legal advice.

Caithness Courier 18 October
Ms Monica Mouat has resigned as chair of the group reviewing maternity services.  the public outcry seems to have been a factor in the decision.  Ms Mouat has chaired the group since it was set up a year ago in response to recommendations made in the 1997 review.
" My ultimate responsibility is as a Highland Health council member is to represent the users of the service and I feel I can best serve them as a member of the group rather than chairperson".
Dr Eric Baijal said that they hoped to announce a replacement in the very near future.

John O'Groat Journal
13 October
Wick's Labour Councillor, Deirdre Steven had a meeting with Health Minister Susan Deacon this week.  As a member of the MUMS (Maternity Unit Must Stay) campaign she described to the minister the difficultiers facing mothers if for any reason they have to travel to Inverness of gyneacological services.  The fears regarding unborn children if midwives were 120 miles away from consultants.  The minister met Mrs Steven after having read the press cuttings following a meeting of over 80 representatives in the health and ,voluntary and public sector in  the Highlands.

John O'Groat Journal
6 October
"I lost baby Daniel...but I owe my life to the Wick Maternity Unit"
Top story again in the John O'Groat Journal today.  The paper obviously sees this as still the most important news around in Caithness this week reflecting the growing anger by local people that the decisions are to be delayed by putting off the starting date for the review until next year.
The paper gives the many details of the harrowing position a young mother was in during her pregnancy. the information related to the paper by her own mother about what happened three weeks ago.  the facts are not in doubt that the baby could not be saved but the mother would almost certainly have died also but for the skills of the consultant gynaecologist in Wick's Caithness General Hospital.  The family were prepared to tell their heart rending story as part of the campaign to ensure there is no down grading of the local maternity services at the Hospital.

"MUMS Keep up the pressure"
A second feature on the same subject also makes the front page.  The local action committee which has several regional councillors and community councillors backing them are still keeping up the push by ensuring that the petition is getting signatures which now number 3000.  checks are being carried out to see how long the petition can run for and still be considered valid before it is sent to the appropriate people for consideration.  Deirdre Steven is to meet Health minister Susan Deacon to bring her up to date on the fears of Caithness people on the services.  Graham Smith, councillor for Wick was again referred to as fearing that the Health Board was hoping that the protest would run out of steam.
Susan topping for MUMS (Maternity Unit Must Stay) said the next step for the campaign would be to undertake a study of the effects of losing the three consultant gynaecologists/obstetricians. More people are beginning to realise this could affect them from the knock on effects in the hospital on other services like anaesthatists and radiographers.
The president of the European Parliament's all party group on public health were told this week that any move to downgrade the maternity unit in Wick would jeopardise the lives of women and babies.
Catherine Stihler, a Scottish MEP was briefed on the MUMS campaign during a fact finding visit to Caithness on Wednesday.
Caithness and Sutherland have the lowest car ownership in the Highlands, making the 200 plus mile round trip impractical.  Mrs Stihler is based in Dunfermline and has a particular interest in health and poverty and went to see two projects in Thurso being spearheaded by the voluntary sector - the Ormlie Project and Homeaid furniture redistribution service.

Caithness Courier
4 October 2000
At a meeting of the Wick Community Council members were told that the Health Board review of Maternity services in Highland would now not start until January instead of October or November.  Dr Eric Baijal representing the Health Board said that the review was not aimed at closing or down grading the any unit in the Highlands and certainly not the Henderson Wing of Caithness General.
Councillor Graham Smith said that they were putting the review back in the hope the campaign would die out.   He believes the real issue is about down grading and not closure.  Councillor Deirdrie Steven referred to the reorganisation of the Trusts and referred to Sam Galbraith wanting more procedures carried out locally.  this has not happened in the case of cataract operations.

Mr Smith referred to the fact that the local population did not want the new trust configuration and had wanted to retain the old Caithness and Sutherland Trust.  this had been ruled out and the Health Board blamed the Scottish Office for the ruling on how many trusts they could have.

Dr Baijal was unable to give any assurances about the future of the maternity services in Caithness General hospital

John O'Groat Journal
29 September 2000
Once again the lead story today with the Health Board pledge on local services.  The board distanced itself from the leaked report branding the maternity unit as inefficient and said the Trust's financial position and the provision of health services should be treated as two separate issues.  The provision of services in Highlands would always cost more.  Dr Baijal for the Health Board also confirmed the review was not about closing down the unit.  The Acute hospital had wanted to downgrade the maternity unit and axe hospital services in Skye but the health minister Susan Deacon had scuppered the plan.
The Health board has now ordered a clinical review and insist that financial reasons for relocating gynaecological services will not feature.
As highlighted on Caithness.org yesterday the Association of Community Councils in Caithness has now spoken out strongly against any closure or even down grading of the maternity provision in the county. 

Caithness Courier
27 September
Front Page
My Baby would Never Have Made It to Inverness
Susan McAdie is shown today with her 11 month old son John saying that if it were not for the gynaecologist available in Wick he would not be here today.
Mrs Mc Adie outlines her story echoing other letters from mothers that have appeared in recent weeks in the press.
Susan Deacon Health minister is reported to have thwarted the moves to axe services in Skye to save 500,000 to help wipe out a 800,000 deficit run up by bosses in Inverness last year.   Now with the trust heading for an overspend which could reach 4million Highland Health board has ordered a "clinical review" of the maternity service in Wick.
Thurso GP Alison Brooks who told church leaders in Caithness recently that taking the gynaecologists 100 miles away from the midwives would risk neonatal and maternal deaths which could be prevented.  No one was available for comment from Highland Health Board before the story in the Courier ran.

MSP presses home baby unit concern
MSP Jamie Stone has had a meeting with the director of public health Dr Eric Baijal.  Mr Stone said Dr Baijal made it clear that the review was the only matter under consideration. 
Councillor Deirdre Steven who is also on the action committee MUMS said last weeks revelations served to confirm local suspicions that balancing the books was the chief motive.
Chairwoman of Highland Health Board, Caroline Thomson gave a "personal Guarantee" that the people of Caithness and Sutherland would be fully consulted before any decisions were taken.

Thurso Community Council
Calls for service to be safeguarded
Thurso Community council has appealed directly to Scottish Health Minister Susan Deacon to block any downgrade of the maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital.
In a letter to Mrs Deacon they said they had been assured that the reconfiguration of health trusts in the highlands two years ago would not result in the centralisation of services in Inverness.
"The closure or downgrading of the maternity unit at Caithness General Hospital along with the knock on effect for gynaecological services, including hysterectomies, bladder repairs, sterilisations, terminations etc and indeed on the viability of other services provided by the hospital - is confirmation of our worst fears", stated Mr. Jackson.
The statement mentions distances and the road problems and goes on -
" You will appreciate that any betrayal of trust to the people of Caithness and Sutherland as evidenced by the closure of the maternity unit will not be tolerated.  I trust therefore that you will do everything in your power to ensure common sense prevails and that NHS provision in Caithness and Sutherland are not diminished"