27 January 2007

Campaigners Win Long Fight To Save Maternity Units - Press & Journal

by Andrew Kellock and Amelia Whittaker, Press & Journal

North-east campaigners have won their battle to save maternity services in three Aberdeenshire towns.

NHS Grampian will confirm on Monday that it has taken the advice of Health Minister Andy Kerr and drawn up plans to create birthing units at Fraserburgh, Banff and Aboyne.

The announcement will mean low-risk mums-to-be will continue to be allowed to deliver their babies locally.

And the health board's decision was welcomed last night as "great news" by an MSP who played a key role in the fight to persuade NHS Grampian to abandon its controversial closures programme.

The SNP's Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) took part in a protest march and rally in the Broch and arranged a meeting between members of the town's Maternity Action Group (MAG) and Mr Kerr.

Earlier this month he went on a fact-finding mission to Skye to see the birthing unit at Broadford in action, and had urged health chiefs to follow NHS Highland's lead.

Mr Stevenson and other north-east MSPs met with NHS Grampian officials yesterday.

He said afterwards: "I fully expect that the mothers-to-be who previously elected to give birth in their communities rather than trek into Aberdeen will continue to be able to do so.

"This will be great news for these mums and their children, and great news for Fraserburgh, Banff and Aboyne, where people have fought so hard to retain this service.

"I congratulate all the mums - and dads - who have driven this change of heart through.The redesigned maternity services now proposed will allow all the mums who previously would have given birth in their communities to do so in future.

"I've been delighted to be able to join campaigners to promote this outcome and to speak in parliamentary committees and debates and arrange meetings with government ministers and officials. But at the end of the day, it has been the mums who have made the case and have won the fight."

MAG member Valerie Ritchie said: "This is wonderful news.

"All the hard work that went into the campaign has been well worth it.

"It just shows that if you want something you have to fight for it."

Save Aboyne Maternity campaigner Jenna Storey said: "We are jubilant that births will remain in the community and that NHS Grampian has listened to the health minister.

"The signs have always been good and I have always been optimistic as women have been voting with their feet.

"The number of births at the unit last year was up to 82. We hope if it is the outcome that we want, it will only be the beginning of the hard work, with service users working together with midwives at the unit."

West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine MSP Mike Rumbles said he was "as certain as he could be" that the announcement would be good news for Aboyne and other north-east maternity units.

He said: "I am impressed with the meeting I had with NHS Grampian chiefs and I am almost certain that they will accept the minister's recommendation.

"That is the ability for low-risk mothers to have planned births at Aboyne Maternity Unit, a unit which is distinct, safe and secure for mums giving birth. I am as positive as I can be that this is what is going to happen and this means everything to the campaigners and to Aboyne."

An NHS Grampian spokesman confirmed last night that the board's chairman, Jim Royan, will meet with Mr Kerr on Monday.

The health minister refused to endorse proposals to close the maternity units at Fraserburgh, Banff and Aboyne and gave the health board 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".

Midwife-led birthing units have a delivery room and recovery room and the one at Broadford saw a trebling of births from eight in 2003 to 24 in 2005.

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