Colin Smyth MSP
South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth has used a health debate in the Scottish Parliament to raise awareness once again about the issues caused by the closure of the maternity unit at Galloway community hospital.
The unit was closed in 2018 and has never reopened.
Speaking in parliament last week, Colin Smyth said: “In 2018, the maternity unit at the Galloway community hospital in Stranraer was shut. We were told that it was shut temporarily because of a shortage of midwives.
“One of my constituents, Claire Fleming, lives in Glenluce, which is 15 miles from Stranraer. Her first pregnancy was with Abbey, who was sadly stillborn.
“Despite the heartbreaking end to that pregnancy, she had to drive herself to the hospital in Dumfries to deliver Abbey—that is 60 miles away. Since then, she has had three children—Molly, Andrew and James—and, along with her husband, Richard, has clocked up more than 7,500 miles between her home and the hospital in Dumfries for maternity appointments because, even before the maternity unit in Stranraer was closed, services had been scaled back.
“Claire suffered from hyperemesis during pregnancy, which meant that she had to stop every 15 minutes on the journeys to Dumfries in order to be sick.
“Claire told me that she is aware of women in Wigtownshire who decided not to get pregnant because they were so scared of having to make that journey in a rush if they went into labour, for fear that they would have to give birth in a lay-by at the side of the road.
“Claire said ‘I would have as many children as I could. I absolutely loved having children. But I got sterilised the last time I was in the hospital … because I couldn’t face doing that journey again with hyper-emesis’.
“That maternity unit, which is the eighth-largest of Scotland’s 22 community midwifery units, has still not reopened for in-hospital births, and there has been a 60 per cent increase in the already high level of nursing and midwifery vacancies in the region since it closed.”
The local MSP also spoke about delayed discharge which remains high in the region.
He continued: “The lack of carers and the problem of delayed discharge have not suddenly appeared because of Covid or the flu.
“They were there in 2015 when the SNP promised to eradicate delayed discharge. However, eight years on, we have never been so far away from achieving that.
“The cabinet secretary consistently says that we cannot afford to pay our care workers the bit more that could help to recruit the carers who are needed.
“Delayed discharge last year cost NHS Dumfries and Galloway alone more than £6 million. We cannot afford not to give our care workers a decent pay rise. Until we do, there is no route to ending delayed discharge.”
He continued: “The health secretary’s sticking plaster is to pay health boards to discharge patients not back home where they want to be but into care homes where they do not want to be—and, in rural areas, those care homes are often miles from their family.
“That will not work: although many boards are already buying up beds in care homes, there are not enough because those homes also cannot recruit care staff.
“In the past year alone, two care homes in Dumfries and Galloway have closed and, just this week, they were joined by another in East Ayrshire. We now have diktats from health and social care partnerships such as the one in Dumfries and Galloway—diktats that, this week, sanctioned the discharge of patients from hospital even if they have not had suitable re-enablement, and the discharge of patients not when their care package starts but when a date has been given for that care to begin at some point in the future, with all the risks that that brings.”
Colin Smyth added: “I could talk about so many other services in the region that are on their knees. On dentistry, for example, in the past few months alone, dental practices in Dumfries, Castle Douglas and Gretna have closed, which has affected 15,000 patients. At the moment, it is not possible to register with an NHS dentist in Dumfries and Galloway.
“On GP surgeries, residents in Lockerbie, Moffat and Stranraer have had their surgeries brought under direct control by the NHS because there are simply not enough GPs.
“The legacy of 15 years of SNP government for the NHS in Dumfries and Galloway is that delayed discharge has risen by 56 per cent in a year; people cannot get an NHS dentist; GP surgeries are closing; and women fear for their health when pregnant.
“Our NHS and social care services desperately need a proper long-term plan. As we have heard today, it is clear that the cabinet secretary and the Government are utterly incapable of delivering such a plan.”