Dr Gray
Dr Gray's hospital

This week in Parliament the Health Secretary confirmed that, after a year of uncertainty and anxiety for Moray women, the SNP do still intend to honour their own manifesto pledge to restore full maternity services at Dr Gray’s.

The statement by the Health Secretary is very welcome, especially by those of us who have been personally affected by the downgrade since 2018. But we should also remember what was promised just one year ago – the last time they pledged total support for restoring maternity services in Moray.

On 23rd March 2021 – one day before the Scottish Parliament broke for the May elections – the then Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, announced that an independent review would be established to examine how (not whether) full consultant-led maternity services could be restored to Dr Gray’s.

In announcing the review, Ms Freeman said, “My position hasn’t changed and I remain committed to the reintroduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s”.  Moray MSP Richard Lochhead emphasised, “I am delighted that the review will focus on how the service can be restored to help address the view locally that the issue was beginning to drift.”

Going into the Holyrood elections, the Moray community reasonably assumed this review would look at key issues like funding, training, recruitment, staff retention, and the strategic direction of Dr Gray’s as a whole. These are the common-sense issues that need addressing in order that full maternity services can be restored.

With the SNP government and Richard Lochhead duly re-elected, we then saw the terms of reference under which the review panel would operate. The terms of reference were substantially watered down from what the SNP had promised, and the review panel had been tasked with examining alternative models of obstetric provision (of which full consultant led services were just one of several options). Another option was simply ‘do nothing’. The panel had been given no real remit to examine key questions like funding, staffing, and NHS Grampian strategy.

The review panel also had to work with the major caveat that any recommendation must be ‘deliverable’. Moray Labour have always believed that what is ‘deliverable’ in this instance is a political choice.  Lack of funding, staff and strategic direction are not inevitable facts of nature – they are the result of choices made by people in power.

The Independent Review finally reported in December 2021 – six months behind schedule. Working within the strict confines of what is ‘deliverable’ under our current governments, they recommended transfers to Raigmore as an interim measure, followed by return of consultant-supported (not consultant-led) maternity services to Dr Gray’s as a long-term goal. This, it seems, was the best outcome that could be designed with the limited resources available.

This week, the current Health Secretary Humza Yousaf stood in Holyrood and, disregarding the recommendations of the review he commissioned, announced that he fully supports the restoration of full consultant-led services to Moray. While this was surprising and very welcome, it begs the question: what was the point of the independent review, and the past year of delays?

Pressed on how long the restoration would take, Mr Yousaf replied, “I have given you the destination. The question now is what will it take to get Dr Gray’s that full consultant-led maternity service? What investment is required? What staffing is required?”

Again, Moray Labour asks: what was the purpose of the independent review if not to answer these very questions?

We welcome this week’s announcement and the extra £5 million in funding each for Dr Gray’s and Raigmore. However we are left with an overwhelming sense that we have been here before. The SNP have once again said they intend to restore full maternity services, just as they did before, but have wasted another year with no plan for achieving this.

It is easy to make grand statements in the run-up to elections; it is far harder to do the difficult work of following this through to fruition, of listening to frontline staff and expectant mothers, and delivering the vital services that Moray women and birth partners need.

Another thing notable by its absence was any mention of community representation on the proposed independent oversight committee. This was requested by campaign group Keep MUM in a letter endorsed by representatives of all 4 largest parties. Moray Labour believe community representation is key to stop this issue once again “beginning to drift” once the May local elections are out of the way.

Moray Labour also echo Rhoda Grant’s concerns that Raigmore clinicians are not being listened to, and that there remains no plan to deal with staff burnout and existing unfilled vacancies in both NHS Highlands and Grampian. Rhoda’s full statement is available here: https://www.rhodagrant.org.uk/2022/03/30/statement-from-labour-msp-rhoda-grant-following-health-secretarys-statement-to-scottish-parliament-today-on-dr-grays-hospital-elgin/

Above all else, today’s positive announcement is a testament to tireless community campaigners, and in particular Keep MUM, who have given Moray women a voice. It should not take such constant campaigning simply to get the SNP to honour their own manifesto pledge. Moray Labour are committed to doing everything in our power to support this campaign, and to ensure that we are not stuck in an endless Groundhog Day of grand announcements and broken promises.

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