10 January 2007

MSP Looks At Skye Births unit

by Andrew Kellock, Press and Journal

Health bosses in Grampian have been urged to look to NHS Highland in their review of maternity services ordered by Health Minister Andy Kerr.

Banff and Buchan MSP Stewart Stevenson is convinced the type of birthing centres operated in the Highlands and Islands can provide the model for a network of baby units in the north-east.

He visited the Dr Mackinnon Memorial Hospital at Broadford, Skye, yesterday as part of the campaign to allow expectant mothers at Fraserburgh, Banff and Aboyne to continue delivering locally.Health chiefs have backed plans to close the maternity wards in the hospitals in all three Aberdeenshire towns.

Mr Kerr has refused to endorse the controversial proposals however, and sent them back to the drawing board.NHS Grampian has until the end of this month to produce a report on whether or not there is scope for providing birth units for low-risk mothers "along the lines of ones already in place in other parts of rural Scotland".

Health board bosses will meet maternity campaigners and other community representatives today to discuss potential ways forward. Mr Stevenson will send a report on his Skye visit to NHS Grampian before the end of this week.

The SNP MSP said last night: "The key message is that, as mothers have become more confident with the midwife-led service, the number of births at the Skye unit has increased.

"They feel as if they are being treated as individuals rather than just patients.

"What has happened in Broadford is a very useful example.

"First, it confirms that, given the choice, expectant mothers will choose to have their babies locally rather than travel.

"Second, it shows that a revamped service on Skye has led to a trebling of births in the unit, from eight in 2003 to 24 in 2005.

"Third, and more importantly in terms of the campaign, it shows that a unit can be viable at a fairly low level.

"At Fraserburgh and Banff we are talking about annual figures in excess of 50. If the unit in Broadford can be run successfully and safely at that level then there is no reason why that system cannot be deployed in the north-east."

Following a public consultation, which was criticised by campaigners as not being wide-ranging enough, Aberdeenshire Community Health Partnership, which is responsible for organising and providing NHS services in the area, recommended the closure of the Fraserburgh, Aboyne and Banff maternity units.

Its proposals, which involve keeping open the delivery ward at Peterhead Hospital but setting it targets, were backed by the NHS Grampian board.Health chiefs insist they are only responding to the falling birth rate and the growing population of elderly people.

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