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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 15:34 GMT
Fears over north maternity cover
Caithness General Hospital
Consultant cover at Caithness General is under review
Downgrading maternity cover in the far north could threaten lives, according to campaigners.

Maternity services in Wick are being studied by an independent review group.

The Caithness baby unit was reprieved in 2001 after a public outcry over plans to reduce it to a GP and midwife staffed centre.

Highland Council is reviewing the decision in light of low birth rates but campaigners warn a 100 mile trip to Inverness could cost lives.

The external assessors will carry out a clinical assessment of maternity services at Caithness General Hospital.

Maternity report

They will hold discussions with local health professionals, the Scottish Ambulance Service and with community representatives during a two day visit.

The group was met by about 200 chanting demonstrators when it arrived in Wick on Monday.

Highland Council argue that the low number of births in Wick means keeping consultants in Caithness is no longer an option.

Last year, the Scottish Executive published a report into childbirth by the Expert Group on Acute Maternity Services.

If there are no consultants, mothers and their babies are going to die
Kerry Mackenzie
Caithness mother
It said the current set-up was "no longer sustainable" in Scotland against the background of the lowest birth rate since records began.

But local people fear the current review could lead to the closure of the Caithness unit, with expectant mothers forced to travel three hours to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness instead.

They claim lives could be lost if specialist services are concentrated at Raigmore.

Caithness mother, Kerry Mackenzie, 37, from Thurso, said that if it had not been for the consultant maternity service at Wick, she and her baby might have died in 2000, after she suffered complications.

Mrs Mackenzie, who had a fit while pregnant with her daughter, Jan, and had to have an emergency section, said: "The consultant and theatre staff were all there waiting for my arrival.

"Transfer was not an option for me, I was too ill, so perhaps another half hour - and that would have been it."

Mother and baby
Locals fear a long trip for mothers-to-be
She added: "If there are no consultants, mothers and their babies are going to die."

Professor Andrew Calder, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Edinburgh and who is leading the review, said he would take the concerns into account.

He added: "I have now received a great deal of correspondence regarding the assessment visit.

"There will be a considerable amount of information to review and it would be premature to respond to these letters individually until my colleagues and I have had time to examine them in detail."

Prof Calder said: "It's fair to say that the maternity service throughout Scotland is facing real difficulties in the past few years as the result of a number of external pressures.

"It's clearly very important to know what the people's expectations are and to do our very best to try and meet those expectations."

Reprieve for Highland baby unit
03 Aug 01  |  Scotland

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