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Last Updated: Monday, 26 July, 2004, 17:14 GMT 18:14 UK
Consultation on maternity cuts
Caithness General Hospital
The maternity service is to be midwife-led
People are set to be given their say on proposals to downgrade maternity services in Caithness.

Under the plans, Caithness General in Wick would switch from a consultant-led to a midwife-led service.

Opponents claim the lives of mothers and babies will be threatened if they have to travel more than 100 miles to Inverness in case of an emergency.

The NHS Highland Board will be asked next week to approve the launch of a three-month consultation period.

That would run from 9 August to 8 November, with the board expected to make a decision the following month.

I will not ask the board of NHS Highland to make a recommendation to the health minister that compromises patient safety, is not legal, or is unaffordable
Garry Coutts
NHS Highland chairman
Earlier this year its members accepted the proposal for a midwife-led maternity unit following a controversial report by Professor Andrew Calder.

He said that sustaining the consultant service proved difficult in the face of problems recruiting trained professionals.

The chairman of NHS Highland, Garry Coutts, said he would be asking his colleagues to consult the public on the future of maternity services in Caithness and Sutherland.

"Local people, staff and other professionals have worked out a number of different models for providing the service," he said.

"Our most senior doctors, midwives and nurses have checked these and some seem more safe, reliable and affordable than others.

"Nevertheless we want to hear people's views on each of these models."

Clinical safety

He said that he looked forward to hearing "constructive ideas" about the right system.

But he stressed: "I will not ask the board of NHS Highland to make a recommendation to the health minister that compromises patient safety, is not legal, or is unaffordable."

Dr Russell Lees, clinical director for woman and child health at NHS Highland, said: "We will be happy to discuss with people how we could amend the models to better meet local aspirations but clinical safety is not something we can compromise on.

"We need some certainty - sooner rather than later - about the future of the service in Caithness, for the benefit of both the patients and the local healthcare professionals."

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10 Mar 04  |  Scotland

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