Birthing unit fight

Plans to shake-up maternity services in the North-east - including closing a birthing facility in Aboyne - have received mixed reactions.

NHS Grampian wants to close the Aboyne and Fraserburgh units as part of plans to standardise maternity care across the region.

An NHS Grampian spokesman said the proposals - which were discussed by the Board on Tuesday (December 6) - were based on a huge amount of work involving public representatives and staff from these communities, who supported the plans.

At the meeting, health chiefs backed plans to launch a three-month consultation on proposals to close the two units and provide care at alternative sites, though they vowed to listen to public opinion.

The Aboyne unit was faced with closure in 2007 but was saved following a campaign by local mothers.

The NHS Grampian spokesman said the proposals were part of a wider review of maternity services, underway since April 2010.

“At present, the units are not in the right place to achieve the 250 births a year that professionals agree are required for midwives to maintain the skills needed to provide safe and effective care during labour and birth,” he said. “The ‘preferred model’ de-centralises the existing service for more women across Grampian, providing more equitable access to a wider range of support.”

Under the proposals, three Community Maternity Units (CMU) in Aberdeen, Peterhead and Inverurie would replace the units in Aboyne and Fraserburgh and a third in Banff which has not been operational for two years. NHS Grampian say this gives women easier access to a wider range of services, and is supported by the public representatives from these areas on the appraisal team.

“A small number of women may have further to travel, but far more will have easier access to a wider range of services,” he said.

Councillor Peter Argyle (Aboyne, Upper Deeside and Donside) said: “I am very concerned that this proposal has resurfaced. The unit at Aboyne provides an excellent service for the whole of Deeside and beyond and the idea that centralising services to Inverurie or Aberdeen would offer any sort of consolation is a non-starter.

“NHS Grampian claims that the move would lead to women receiving ‘more consistent’ advice and treatment: I am struggling to understand how closing the excellent and recently refurbished facility at Aboyne will achieve that laudable aim.

“There is to be a consultation on this issue: I hope that as many people as possible will take part and send a very clear message to NHS Grampian that this would be a centralisation too far. It is disappointing that the previously successful campaign to save the Aboyne maternity unit will have to be re-run so soon but I know the will is here to stop this proposal in its tracks.”

Jenna Storey, an original member of Save Aboyne Maternity in 2007 and now Support Aboyne Maternity (SAM), said: “SAM has been involved in shaping the proposals. We have been looking at the current service together with midwives, doctors, anaesthetists and paediatricians - everyone involved in maternity services - and we have been trying to become better at what we do and to be safer and make sure that needs are being met. I am confident that everyone who reads the proposal will know that this is not a cost-cutting exercise. We want to have the best maternity service that we can be proud of, and most importantly that gives all babies the best start in life.

“NHS Grampian proposes obstetric outreach clinics in Banchory so that women do not have to travel to Aberdeen to see a consultant during pregnancy.”