CHAT column, February 2020

First published in John O’Groat Journal in February 2020

The big health story has to be the Cabinet Minister for Health’s visit to Caithness General Hospital. It was by no means a whistle stop visit; Jeane Freeman spent almost four hours in the hospital, meeting staff and visiting different departments. Interestingly, she spent an hour in the maternity unit speaking to midwives and staff.

She was given an update on the Caithness redesign plans and said she  expects to receive the next stage of paperwork as soon as possible.

NHS Highland will quite rightly see this visit as positive and a morale booster.

However, I think whoever organised the visit definitely missed an opportunity. Just think how much more positive the visit would have been had the Health Minister spent even 20 minutes meeting local Councillors and CHAT. There are health concerns in Caithness that need addressed and who better than the Health Minister to discuss them with.

It’s no secret that CHAT has asked on several occasions to meet with Jeane Freeman but I’m afraid a lot of Caithness folk will remember this visit as the time the Health Minister chose not to meet with local groups to discuss health matters. It’s a bit ironic that when she visited Inverness and Elgin she found time to meet with local campaign groups.

The people of Caithness deserve to have their concerns heard.

Maternity questions also need to be answered. They have been raised in the Scottish Parliament by MSP’s like Rhoda Grant and Edward Mountain. MP Jamie Stone has often spoken on the matter in the House of Commons.

CHAT regularly meet with NHS Highland managers and every time we raise maternity we’re told, ‘The decision was made and there is a new model in place’. This despite the fact that there was no consultation on the decision.

It was encouraging therefore at the last meeting when Iain Stewart was the Chief Executive that we noted a slight change in direction. Mr Stewart did not dismiss our concerns and listened to our suggestion that NHS Orkney’s maternity model could work in Caithness.

Jeane Freeman, was recently asked by CHAT to set up an urgent review into maternity matters in Caithness and possibly trialling the Orkney Maternity model but she failed to respond on the urgent review question and told us to raise any matters on maternity with NHS Highland directly.

A recent Independent survey asking Caithness mums about their Maternity experiences is to be discussed at the next NHS Highland Board meeting. We hope NHS Highland will take on board their comments.

2020 is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. CHAT has always admired the work the local maternity unit undertakes and now meets with them regularly to discuss maternity matters. We supply them 100 mile helper kits, (135 to date) which are given to mothers-to-be who have to go to Inverness in a hurry, those travelling by ambulance are accompanied by a midwife. It is worth remembering that while midwives, along with other maternity staff, deal with the very important job of the actual birth, they also have the equally important job of looking after and supporting mums and their families for almost nine months before birth and several months after birth. This specialist work by a truly dedicated staff is often forgotten in the maternity debate.

Ron Gunn
Vice Chair Chat