CHAT column, November 2019

First published in John O’Groat Journal in November 2019

On November 29th 2016 the NHS Highland Board made the decision to downgrade the maternity model in Caithness. The Scottish Government backed this decision.

Caithness has a birth rate of approximately 200 a year. Since the change in the maternity unit, around 10% of Caithness mothers have given birth in Wick; with around 90% having to travel down the A9 to Inverness in all weathers.

Since 2016 CHAT has campaigned for more births in Caithness.

CHAT members recently visited the amazing new hospital in Kirkwall. The £64 million mainly EEC funded building took three years to plan and design, and a further three years to build.

It is a fantastic building and I was delighted to hear that Caithness NHS staff have visited it and will be using some of the design in the proposed new Hubs for Caithness.

On the ground floor along with a reception there are two local GP practices, a massive outpatient area, a complete Dental department including oral surgery, orthodontics and paediatric dentistry, an A&E department with Ambulance station attached, radiology department, restaurant and many meeting and waiting areas.

Upstairs is the extensive inpatient department with nearly 50 single bedded rooms used for a variety of clinical conditions, a theatre, a complete laboratory so that very few tests are done outwith the hospital, a Pharmacy and the maternity unit.

Their maternity model is an Obstetric supported Community Midwifery Unit, which means it is run by the midwives but Obstetrician intervention and support is available at all times. The unit has a staff of 14, with full time and part time midwives supported by maternity auxiliaries. In addition there is two full time and one part time Obstetricians.

The unit is open 24/7 and are confident they could meet all the recommendations in Scottish Government’s “The Best Start Maternity and Neonatal Care Plan” which amongst other things, recommends that women see the same midwife right throughout their pregnancy.

New mums and babies with no complications can go home after six hours but most stay two days, or four days after having a C section.

Around 75% of Orkney mothers give birth in Kirkwall, with about 25% having to fly to Aberdeen to give birth.

Following the downgrading of the Caithness maternity unit on safety grounds, Orkney NHS was able to satisfy the relevant authorities including the Scottish Government that their particular maternity model was safe to continue as it is.

CHAT believe the Orkney model could work in Caithness and would allow a huge increase in the number of births in Caithness General Hospital.

I am sure you are aware there will be a General election on December 12th.

I know health services are devolved to the Scottish Government but it’s such an important issue that all politicians should have an opinion. We suggest when you meet any of the prospective candidates you ask them if they back CHAT’s campaign to have more services locally, including maternity. As most candidates will be members of a political party, ask them what their party is doing to keep services in Caithness.

Orkney has a population of 22000, Caithness has a population of 26000; both have a very similar birth rate of around 200 a year, so the question is,

“If Orkney can have that particular maternity model, why can’t Caithness?”

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair Chat

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Bill Fernie, Maria Aitken, Ashley Miller, Ron Gunn

More photos.