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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 April, 2004, 16:45 GMT 17:45 UK
Staff crisis hits maternity unit
Caithness General Hospital
The maternity service is being suspended
NHS Highland is to suspend the deliveries of babies at Caithness General Hospital in Wick because of a staffing crisis.

The move follows confirmation that the remaining consultant in the maternity unit has gone on sick leave.

It means that pregnant mothers will have to travel 104 miles to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness to give birth.

The unit's future has been in doubt after a review of the service recommended downgrading.

NHS Highland said it would suspend deliveries from Friday at 1700 BST until it was in a position to have sufficient locum cover.

It would not be safe to do anything other than ask these women to come down to Inverness to have their babies
Nigel Hobson, NHS Highland
The health authority said it regretted the need to take such measures and sympathised with the difficulties this would cause families.

More than 2,000 people marched through Wick last month to protest over the maternity plans.

'Major roadworks'

Campaigners are said to be furious and are concerned that the lives of mothers and babies could be in danger if they face a 2-hour journey to Inverness in an emergency.

Nigel Hobson, director of nursing at NHS Highland, said: "An unexpected period of sickness has put the best-laid plans into some disarray.

"We are taking this action because it is the safest thing to do. It would not be safe to do anything other than ask these women to come down to Inverness to have their babies, where they will be properly looked after."

Mum and baby
Pregnant mothers will have to travel to Inverness

Highland Councillor David Flear said he was opposed to the move as it could place pregnant women and their babies in danger.

"We've got major roadworks under way at The Braes and we've been told the road is going to be shut at night for about 10 weeks," he said.

"Does that mean in an emergency they would be expecting a women to take a four-hour run? Surely that is not acceptable."

Cllr Flear said NHS Highland had not indicated whether more ambulances or helicopters would be made available to deal with possible emergencies.

BBC Scotland's Craig Anderson
"Midwives are not ready to run the Wick unit by themselves"

Marchers condemn maternity plans
21 Mar 04  |  Scotland
NHS board backs maternity cuts
16 Mar 04  |  Scotland
Report queries rural baby units
10 Mar 04  |  Scotland

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