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Caithness News Bulletins August 2004

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North Action Group Maternity Services Campaign On Caithness.org  
11 August 04
Another Crisis Hits Caithness Maternity Unit
Termination of Locums' Contracts At Maternity Unit Caithness General Hospital

NHS Highland announced today that it has had to take action to terminate the contracts of two locum obstetricians working in Caithness General Hospital because of concerns about the standards of their clinical practice. Women who have been treated by the two doctors were written to yesterday (Tuesday 10th August 2004).

Following expressions of concern raised about the clinical practice of two locum doctors, NHS Highland's Medical Director Dr Alison Graham visited the hospital and conducted an investigation immediately on hearing the allegations that were made by both patients and staff at the hospital.

Dr Graham said:  "I have taken this action because I have very real concerns about the standards of clinical practice of both of these locum doctors. Despite having good references and clearly acceptable CVs there have been aspects of their clinical care that have raised concerns over their ability to competently practice in an unsupervised manner in the hospital at a level we expect."

"My team and I have reviewed the notes of all of the women who were seen by these doctors either on an inpatient or outpatient basis. I am confident that most of them have got absolutely nothing to worry about. I have said in a letter to those women that they should contact their GP if they are at all concerned. There are though a small number of women who we have offered an appointment to, so that they can be seen in the hospital by another consultant to review their treatment with them and to offer them reassurance."

"I am very sorry indeed for the worry that this issue will have caused these women and their families but I do feel that this action highlights the importance we must place on clinical safety."

The Board has already found a temporary replacement locum to support Dr Valentine, locum consultant obstetrician in the hospital. Longer term replacements are being sought by the Board.


What the Politicians Are Saying
Rob Gibson SNP MSP Calls For More Resources

Rob Gibson SNP MSP for Highlands and Islands called for resources and staff from NHS Scotland to replace unsatisfactory locums the consultant-led Caithness General Hospital Maternity service.

He said, ' Last week I suggested that Health Minister Malcolm Chisholm should be consulted about the provision of cash and personnel to meet the maternity needs in Caithness. Today's removal of locum consultants whose practices are alleged to below par only shows that national resources are urgently needed.

'The options for full consultant presence have to be funded. The Health Minister has to say when and where more suitable consultants can be found. Highland Health Board is in a near impossible position because the national policy of the Scottish Executive has failed to provide more recruits to work between several hospitals so that consultants can keep up their competencies and serve the geographical needs of the Far North.

The crisis needs long term investment. In the short term when will the NSH Scotland step in to help?

Mary Scanlon Conservative MSP
Highlands and Islands MSP Mary Scanlon has today been told by the Chairman of NHS Highland that two consultant obstetricians are to be dismissed from their posts in Caithness General Hospital.

Mary described the news as “very sad”, coming as it does at the start of the consultation process.  She said; “I understand that their paperwork was not up to standard, but my main concern is for their clinical practice.  Given the shortage of consultant obstetricians, I would hope that consultants will in future be given the support and training that is required in order to fulfil quality audits of clinical practice and the standards we expect of them, and to overcome any language difficulties, should they exist.

“This is vital in encouraging ‘fresh talent’ to Scotland.
“Gary Coutts, Chairman of NHS Highland has assured me that ‘he will do everything in his power’ to recruit consultants, at least until the consultation process has been completed.

“If there are questions relating to the clinical competence of these consultants, I presume that they will be reported to the GMC to ensure that there is no risk to patients elsewhere in the UK.”
Mary has expressed her concern at hearing from Nigel Hobson, Director of Nursing at the NHS Highland Board meeting last week that “all consultants are not in the Premier League”.
Mary said; “I sincerely hope that patient safety has not been compromised in this exercise.
“I am pleased that Brian Valentine will continue his work at Caithness general Hospital.”

Scottish Socialist Party
The Scottish Socialist Party has questioned the motives behind today's decision to sack two of three temporary consultants at Caithness Maternity Unit, Scotland.
Local SSP branch secretary Frank Ward, who is also a member of the North Action Group (campaign to save consultant-led services at Wick maternity unit) said: "Regardless of the reasons given for removing the staff, this latest behaviour has been anticipated, indeed predicted." In a private internal Email to NAG committee members, dated August 6th, Frank Ward wrote: "This is the start of a crucial period for the maternity unit campaign. Expect dirty tricks (such as another 'staff crisis' forcing temporary closure) but the core of our campaign must be that any downgrading is unsafe, antisocial and unnecessary."

The socialists also claim that a well-respected doctor at Wick offered to EXTEND HIS CONTRACT in order to help the Polish doctors assimilate into the Wick unit.  "THIS OFFER WAS REJECTED BY OFFICIALS" claims Mr Ward, who also claims that
doctors of possibly higher quality were actually turned down for the Wick vacancies.
Frank Ward added: "The people of Caithness and North Sutherland might be forgiven for suspecting foul play. This sudden crisis comes just a few days into the 'consultation' period to determine the unit's future.  Is this another high-profile attempt to undermine the Caithness maternity unit?"

"The unit is being run at a bare minimum level of staffing, which caused a temporary closure earlier this year when one doctor went off sick." "The Scottish Socialist Party calls upon NHS Highland to fulfil its statutory duties and maintain full services at Wick." We must also ask why the Polish doctors, unfamiliar with NHS procedures but possessing the necessary qualifications, were not provided with the necessary induction and supervision."