PREGNANT women are being forced to travel up 200 miles for 15 minute-ultrasound scan despite equipment lying redundant in a local hospital.
Belford Hospital, Fort William, has all the required equipment for antenatal scans but the service has been unavailable for 10 months because of lack of qualified staff.
Pregnant women in the area have no option but to the make the round trip to Inverness with some forced to stay overnight in the city if they have an early appointment.
Local Lochaber MSP Dave Thompson has backed a local petition to put an end to the situation – calling it “unacceptable”.
But NHS Highland insists it has advertised for the post, but has so far been unable to attract a sonographer with an obstetric qualification to the Belford.
Mr Thompson, who has been contacted by worried constituents, said: “I was concerned to hear that the vacancy was not visible on the NHS recruitment website last week, and I have asked for clarification that everything is being done to ensure that the post is filled as soon as possible.”
The online petition, currently signed by hundreds of people, is addressed to Nicola Sturgeon, the Deputy First Minister, and health secretary Alex Neil.
Marie MacLeod, 27, from Caol, who launched the petition, said: “This is absolutely ridiculous that pregnant mothers from Lochaber are being forced to travel all the way to Inverness for their scans.
“It came to light for me when my sister was due for a scan. She had to wait three days to get an appointment.
“I think it is totally unacceptable that this service is not available in Fort William and the NHS must reinstate it as quickly as possible. There are so many concerns that I and the hundreds of people who have signed the petition have about this current set-up.
“The A82 is a nightmare of a road at the best of times. We shouldn’t be forcing heavily pregnant women to have to endure journeys up and down that dangerous road. It is totally inconvenient for the people of Lochaber.
“Families are being forced to take time off work, make childcare arrangements, rely on public transport if they don’t have a car and the stress of travelling – all for a service which should be here on our doorstep at our local hospital. It’s pretty shocking, really.
“It’s not just about Fort William folk. People from Mallaig, Ardnamurchan and the islands face huge journeys of over 200 miles there and back because of this.”
Janine Collenge, also from Fort William, added: “It’s a horrible road to travel at the best of times, but to have to do it pregnant and with a full bladder – needed for the scan – is a nightmare.”
Hundreds of people have signed the petition, that states: “People should show their support so women don’t have to travel to Inverness for all maternity scans. It’s unfair and costly and causes stress.
“Those who have no car or transport are expected to rely on a bus service which may not suit the appointments, therefore women are expected to be in Inverness hours early, or even the night before.”
Sarah McLeod, lead midwife north and west operational unit at NHS Highland, said: “We are aware the current situation is not ideal and we would like to assure patients we are looking at ways we can address this.
“This is not a service cut, but is due to a national shortage of appropriately trained staff we have been unable to recruit.”