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8 August 2006

Maternity unit hangs in the balance - The Banffshire Journal

By George Boardman

THE closure of Banff’s maternity unit is far from a done deal. Claims in the press that the Scottish health minister, Andy Kerr, would simply rubber-stamp NHS Grampian plans to close all four rural maternity units – including the one at Chalmers Hospital in Banff – are well wide of the mark, according to inside sources.

'The Banffshire Journal’ can reveal that a final decision could still be months away – allowing plenty of time for pro-Chalmers campaigners to fight for the rights of local mums to have their babies in Banff, rather than have to travel to the maternity units in Elgin or Aberdeen. NHS Grampian propose that a new maternity unit would open at Peterhead to cover north Aberdeenshire.

The board can expect the minister to make a rigorous assessment of their plans before any decision is taken. “That could be months away,” admitted a source.

NHS Grampian Board took their decision to recommend closure of the maternity units at Banff, Aboyne, Fraserburgh and Huntly at their meeting in Aberdeen last Tuesday.

They say that falling birth rates and an ageing population mean that there are better ways of using NHS resources.

But MSP Stewart Stevenson says: “I must say that I was deeply concerned and distressed over NHS Grampian’s recent decision to recommend the closure of maternity units at Huntly, Banff, Aboyne and Fraserburgh.”

He notes that the Scottish Executive’s policy requires that health services are delivered as close as possible to the local communities that need them. “That should mean that maternity services in principal will continue to be delivered in that community, and I call upon everyone involved in this matter to make sure that their views are known when the Minister makes his decision.”

Whatever the decision, NHS Grampian say that it will have no effect on the ongoing process to modernise and rebuild Chalmers Hospital in Banff.

There is now only one maternity bed pencilled in for the renovated hospital, and the layout was already planned to allow the bed to be used for other purposes.

A spokesman also confirmed: “The hospital will still be the base for the community midwife unit, and offer a full range of ante- and post-natal care.”

After a very vociferous campaign against closures when they were first suggested, the NHS board were forced to extend their consultation period.

It culminated in a special workshop day last month, where groups which had previously been involved in the original consultation were invited to meet senior management in Inverurie to work though the entire NHS Grampian agenda for future services. Maternity is only a small part of that future – but it was the one which generated most opposition to change.

The board had to endure a hostile reception when it took its consultation roadshow to Banff last year, where local people were unhappy about the workshop style of the meeting. It led to claims that the method was designed to 'divide and conquer’, and prevent momentum building up from the floor of the hall.

The most active anti-closure campaigns have been seen in Fraserburgh and Aboyne.

for the original story click on:
The Banffshire Journal Categories [Health and Community Care]

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