Aboyne Maternity Unit moved a step closer to closure this week after health chiefs backed proposals to axe the facility as part of plans to standardise maternity care across the region.
At their meeting in Aberdeen on Tuesday (June 12), the Board of NHS Grampian agreed to submit the final proposals for maternity services in Grampian to the Scottish Government for ministerial consideration.
This followed a three-month public consultation on proposals to close the unit - and provide care at Community Maternity Units (CMUs) in Inverurie, Aberdeen and Peterhead - which ended in March. Each CMU would be designed for about 250 births a year.
According to NHS Grampian, the proposals “aim to provide a service that is safer and more sustainable and which will better meet the needs of all women and families across Grampian as well as women from Orkney, Shetland, Highland and Tayside who need specialist care at Aberdeen Maternity Hospital.”
They say the proposals aim to ensure resources are used more fairly, effectively and efficiently.
A statement from NHS Grampian following the meeting said the strength of feeling from individuals and comunities had been recognised. “The Board acknowledged that one of the substantial challenges of these proposals was balancing this local feeling with the need to provide an integrated service for Grampian as a whole.”
The final proposal includes two consultant units in Aberdeen and Elgin; integrated community maternity teams across Grampian; a CMU in Aberdeen, Inverurie and Peterhead; a homebirth service across Grampian; scanning and screening services and community based consultant clinics and a longer term aim to relocate Aberdeen Maternity Hospital on the Foresterhill site.
Mid Deeside Community Council (MDCC) had written to NHS Grampian calling for the unit to be saved. Member Kathy Parkinson said: “If the reason for this proposed cut is not financial, then it must be to fit-in with the NHS’ one-formula-for-all. The problems that arise from a widespread population like this are actually solved by having a maternity unit in the country town of Aboyne and not by administrators changing the reasons to meet their closure needs.”
Councillor Peter Argyle (Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside) said: “Whilst there is much in the maternity strategy which is commendable, the closure of Aboyne will diminish the service on offer to families in Deeside and west Aberdeenshire. There are considerable flaws in NHS Grampian’s thinking on this issue and these could also have been resolved by keeping Aboyne open.”
Cllr Geva Blackett (Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside) said: “Ifyou live in Braemar or Strathdon, NHS Grampian now expect labouring mothers to travel 60 miles to Aberdeen to give birth - in winter the weather can be treacherous and even on a good day it is a journey that takes well over an hour! How can we expect young people to come and live in our communities when yet another public service is being eroded?”
Campaigner Jenna Storey fought to keep the Aboyne unit open in 2007 and has been involved in the Maternity Service Review for the past two-and-a-half years.
“The proposal that has been presented to the health board reinstates CMUs in Aberdeenshire - that is fantastic news,” she said. “The Aberdeenshire review previously sought to close all Aberdeenshire CMUs. The CMUs will be open 24 hours, seven-days-a-week. They will be run by midwives who will be our first point of contact.
“I am very sad this has come about, especially having fought so hard to save the matty in Aboyne, but I honestly believe that what women and babies will gain from these proposals far outweighs what is being lost.” The proposals will go to Scottish ministers for approval.