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Caithness News Bulletins November 2003

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East Caithness Draws Together On Maternity Downgrading Threat
The Francis Street club , wick was the scene of unprecedented support for consultant led services to be retained in Caithness. 

Councillor Donnie Mackay one of the organisers of the meeting announced the start of the meeting and introduced Phillip Coghill who chaired the meeting.

Almost no other issue could so easily bring together so many people from many backgrounds in the local community.  The threat just three years after the last review of maternity services in Caithness is thought by many to be nothing more than a disgrace with the selection of Professor Calder being no more than a hatchet man given terms of reference for an enquiry that can only reach the conclusion that quality services at consultant level can only be provided outwith the county.

Speakers from several sides including George Bruce - Caithness Health Forum and Councillors Bill Fernie David Flear (Area Convenor) and Graham Smith all making contributions supporting the retention of services and outlining some of the reasons why services should be kept in Caithness.  These views were more than strongly echoed by the histories of several mothers and relatives in the audience covering many instances of near death that could have become reality had they had to depend on a long journey to Raigmore where future services might be offered.

thee was much criticism of the review and the way it was set up including Professor Calder who is seeing few people and spending very little time in the county.  Demands from the audience that Professor Calder come to a public meeting with the chairman of the Health board and explain publicly what is going on were taken up and George Bruce for the Health Forum agreed to written and extend such an invitation.  It was not thought likely that this would be taken up.

As at the last enquiry the same arguments about distance and threats to mothers and babies were gone over with several near death experiences of mothers and babies only saved by their treatment in Caithness General.  air services could not be relied on with one person telling how it took over nine hours to organise and get a flight for an emergency.   The problems of the changing weather conditions from fog in summer to extreme snow and blizzards blocking roads were all put forward as having the potential to cause deaths.

More direct action has been called for this time round and the League of Friends of Caithness General a group well-known for fund-raising to help the hospital and patients and not normally known as a militant organisation has agreed to organise protest demonstrations when Professor Calder arrives in Caithness.  Demands from the audience for some positive sign of how they felt was the main reason for them taking this on.   A petition was circulated and signed by many in the audience.

Mention was made of the attempts to stop staff from the hospital contributing to the debate.  Councillor Katrina MacNab from the audience made a statement saying she had been asked to inform people that staff were being told they were not allowed to speak at meetings by management in Inverness.

Apart from signing a petition the audience were asked to write letters and especially send one to David Flear area convenor who is one of the people who after his own request has been allowed an hour with Professor Calder.  Mr Flear wants to see as many letters with reasons and information the local population wish to retain services as they are and indeed improved.

Another meeting for the west of Caithness and North Sutherland will take place in Thurso Town Hall on Friday at 7.30pm