17 November 2005

S2M-3400 Aboyne Maternity Unit

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 17 November 2005

[THE DEPUTY PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:15]

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Aboyne Maternity Unit

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S2M-3400, in the name of Mike Rumbles, on Aboyne maternity unit. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament welcomes the excellent work carried out by staff at Aboyne Hospital's maternity unit; notes that the number of mothers giving birth at Aboyne is increasing, with the number of deliveries rising from 34 in 2003 to 60 in 2004, and notes that the number of bookings has increased by 71 per cent for the coming year; agrees that the unit is an excellent example of health services being delivered locally as advocated by Professor David Kerr in his report, Building a Health Service Fit for the Future; further agrees that expectant mothers should have the option of giving birth locally, at Aberdeen Royal Infirmary or in the home; notes with concern the possibility of the unit being closed, and considers that NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open.


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Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I congratulate the mums and the products of their efforts and, of course, the efforts of Aboyne maternity unit. I thank Mike Rumbles for the opportunity to discuss this important issue.

I come to the debate as an Opposition politician to speak in support of Executive policy, because it is clear what Executive policy is and it is clear that we support that policy, which has been articulated on many occasions. A year ago, the draft budget stated that, in the health service,

"investment priorities and service redesign will be matters for frontline staff in partnership with patients."

I know that the front-line staff and the patients at Aboyne are, as is the case at the other four maternity units, in favour of retaining the unit and developing and building on its success. Three of the other units—the ones in Peterhead, Fraserburgh and Banff—are in my constituency and they, too, sit under the black cloud of uncertainty that has been created by Grampian NHS Board.

This is a rural issue par excellence, but it is not only a rural issue par excellence. Fraserburgh is, in fact, a non-rural area with a population of 15,000; it is the biggest town in Scotland more than an hour away from an acute services unit. The issue goes right down and right through the implementation of health policy in the north-east.

Mike Rumbles gets it spot on in the motion:

"NHS Grampian should work with local people to ensure that the unit remains open."

That is also true of the units in my constituency. We have heard that 500 people were out on the street in Aboyne, 600 were out in Fraserburgh and a couple of hundred were out in Banff. Frankly, when we energise the women of the north-east, we men should take cover. I have little doubt about the ultimate success of the campaigns.

The Scottish National Party would, of course, make health boards more responsive to what is going on by including on them some elected members, but I do not expect the minister to respond to that point tonight.

Andy Kerr, in the debate on 27 October, re-emphasised the Executive's policy for

"health care to focus more on preventive and continuous care in local communities and to target our resources at those who are at the greatest risk of ill health."—[Official Report, 27 October; c 20029.]

I agree with that policy. If we transfer maternity services away from midwife-led units, we potentially increase the costs, as we will deploy more expensive and more specialised skills and resources at the centre to no purpose.

One of the principles of the report to which members have referred—"A Framework for maternity services in Scotland"—is that

"The consultation processes should involve ... users of services, and the general public."

Involvement is not the end of the story; we have to respond to the needs of

"users of services, and the general public."

There are supposed to be maternity services liaison committees. I must confess that I am not personally aware of one, although there may well be such committees. However, I have not yet seen them come to the table with any great passion.

I will close with a little saying from a guru called Bernard Cox:

"The British Civil Servant ... cannot be bribed to do wrong nor persuaded to do right."

On this occasion, persuasion must triumph and the civil servants must respond to public need and to mothers' and children's needs.


Stewart Stevenson
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