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Raigmore Hospital's almost £9 million maternity unit extension gets the green light

By Scott Maclennan

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Raigmore Hospital will benefit from a major expansion amid rising pressures on its maternity services. Picture: James Mackenzie.
Raigmore Hospital will benefit from a major expansion amid rising pressures on its maternity services. Picture: James Mackenzie.

A major overhaul of maternity services has been given the green light allowing the “transformational” investment of nearly £9 million in a major extension for new wards at Raigmore Hospital.

Its final hurdle was getting planning permission from Highland Council and that was granted under delegated powers – meaning by officials without recourse to elected councillors – after the application was made back in March 2023.

NHS Highland says its ambitious project would lead to a major expansion in maternity and neonatal care services at the Highlands’ flagship hospital and enable more women from Moray and Caithness to give birth in Inverness.

It is understood the £5 million cost for new and upgraded buildings – to be completed by 2025 – would then necessitate another £3.8 million being spent on 56 extra staff, including doctors, consultants, nurses, midwives and other specialists.

The Scottish Government revealed a £6.6 million funding package in February 2023 aimed at progressing moves towards an integrated maternity service for the north of Scotland, developed jointly by NHS Grampian and NHS Highland.

The cash was for a refurbishment of maternity facilities at Raigmore Hospital and to support a return to consultant-led care at Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin but maternity services would remain operational throughout the building and refurbishment work.

Raigmore was originally built in 1941 and additional buildings added up to the present day with the current two-storey maternity block built in 1988 sited to the north-west of the hospital’s main eight-storey building.

Now one of the most significant features of the project would be an extension of ward 11 with seven new birthing rooms and associated en-suites with an artist's impression of the planned maternity unit extension.

It would also include: a reconfiguration of current wards; creation of clinical examination and consulting rooms within the ground floor; a re-configuring of the birthing suite and special care baby unit (SCBU); fire upgrading works; and external improvement works.

Artist's impression of the planned maternity unit extension at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness
Artist's impression of the planned maternity unit extension at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness

Meeting the needs of women

An NHS Highland spokeswoman said: “The refurbishment of our maternity unit at Raigmore is required to meet the needs of women across Highland and Moray. In order to meet the modern space requirements a small extension is needed to accommodate the increased size of birthing rooms needed.

“It will bring our maternity unit to modern standards and provide a better experience for mums and the staff providing the service. We are pleased that our engagement with Highland Council planners has been successful and are grateful for their support on this project.”

The need to redesign Raigmore’s maternity unit came as elements of maternity care were transferred from Caithness General Hospital in 2016 and from Moray in 2018. That led to a review of the hospital’s maternity and special care baby capacity from late 2018.

A networked model of care with Raigmore Hospital in Inverness will see Moray women offered a choice of place of birth from early 2025, once refurbishment work has concluded.

But local MSPs say that while the improvements are welcome to improve the outdated facilities currently available there should be no backsliding on promises to restore maternity care to Dr Gray’s in Elgin and a final answer has to be found for Caithness too.

Labour MSP Rhoda Grant said: “This step forward is welcome and I know it will come as a relief to many mothers, families and NHS staff. The current maternity unit in Raigmore is not fit for purpose for modern maternity care so this expansion is welcome.

“However, the Scottish Government cannot renege on previous promises made to Moray women, therefore consultant-led maternity services need to be reinstated in Dr Gray’s Hospital.

“I will continue to campaign for full maternity services to be reinstated in Caithness. This is something the Scottish Government have, so far, failed to agree to. Modern facilities are welcome however, travelling 100-plus miles to get to them is unacceptable – this is the equivalent of asking Edinburgh mothers to give birth in Newcastle.

“We have seen in recent weeks road closures on the A9 north meaning any woman in labour would not be able to get to Raigmore Hospital at that time.”

Artist's impression of the planned maternity unit extension at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness
Artist's impression of the planned maternity unit extension at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness

Costs and recruitment concerns

Conservative MSP Edward Mountain has had his doubts from the start and welcomes the “critically needed improvements to the ageing maternity unit” but is still worried about the costs and recruitment.

“I remain concerned that there will be insufficient beds within the new unit and that the budget of £5 million will not be enough to cover all the costs,” he said.

“Now that planning has been approved it is critical for NHS Highland to lay out their plans for the maternity and obstetrics departments during the construction of these facilities as they will undoubtedly be affected.

“What is also clear is that a major recruitment drive should also be implemented immediately, so that when the upgraded department is opened there are sufficient midwives and consultants to run it.

“Only when all of this is completed will Highland women and mothers get the level of support that they should have and consideration can be given to taking on additional mothers from Moray.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Safe maternity care as close to home as practicable is vital. We recognise the challenges facing remote and rural health boards, which is why the Scottish Government is providing £5 million of capital investment to upgrade maternity services in Raigmore.

“Work is ongoing to ensure services are developed in a flexible and sustainable way recognising local population needs and geographic challenges.”

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