Possible hope on horizon for Caithness and Highlands and Islands mothers

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, has met representatives from the Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS) and Maritime and Coastguard Agency in Holyrood to discuss the emergency transfer of pregnant women from Caithness.

Mrs Grant said the meeting was constructive and did give some hope that there could be a new service established to fly a medical team to the area to deal with maternity emergencies.

A new initiative called Best Start, looking at overall maternity services, is also considering whether a different skills and resources could be given to the ScotSTAR service, run by SAS and used to fly in medical experts in emergencies to locations across Scotland.

At the moment, ScotSTAR does not have obstetric/midwifery staff and Mrs Grant has raised this with Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, asking if this gap could be filled to aid remote and rural locations.

“This new development does give me some hope but we are not there yet,” said Mrs Grant.

“There is no timescale for this new venture to come before the Scottish Government as various groups are looking at issues around this.

“So, in the meantime, I will continue to push NHS Highland to look at a risk assessment for emergency transfers and obviously I still have concerns while any new system is being formulated.”

At the meeting, both the ambulance service and the coastguard agency reiterated their view that airlifting women in labour was risky and road ambulance was the best option.

In September 2019 Mrs Grant called on Ms Freeman to launch an urgent review into the availability and suitability of emergency air transport for pregnant women across the whole of the Highlands and Islands. Ms Freeman responded by suggesting Mrs Grant meet with SAS.

Mrs Grant’s plea came after her further investigation into the case of a Caithness mother who went into labour at 30 weeks with twins. The babies were born 50 miles apart in a dash by a road ambulance to Raigmore Hospital.

Mrs Grant asked NHS Highland, SAS and the Health Secretary further questions after receiving an edited version of a Significant Adverse Event Review into the incident. She previously asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to investigate.

She repeated her call for a full risk assessment to be carried out on such emergency transfers and that a suitable craft can be made available for airlifts.

Mrs Grant said then that after receiving the responses, for any woman in labour and needing emergency help going by road ambulance is really the only option and air transfer is almost a non-starter.

The mother of the twins, who wants to remain anonymous, is supporting Mrs Grant’s campaign for a review.