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‘It was a nightmare’: New mum reveals ordeal in plea for maternity services at Dr Gray’s

Mum Billie Cowie with newborn baby Elsie

A new Moray mum is pleading for maternity services in the area to be fully reinstated, as she revealed the “nightmare” of having to travel over 60 miles to give birth.

Billie Cowie, 25, gave birth to baby daughter Elsie Slater on December 29, 2021 after weeks of travelling back and forth between Aberdeen and her home in Buckie.

She also faced the added difficulty of being “isolated” far from home after testing positive for Covid shortly after birth.

Maternity services at the local Dr Gray’s Hospital in Elgin were “temporarily” downgraded in June 2018 due to a staffing crisis, from consultant-led to midwife-led.

Since then most families have been forced to drive to Aberdeen 65 miles away to give birth, or further to other hospitals.

Now Ms Cowie is joining the growing calls for full maternity services to be officially reinstated.

‘It was a nightmare’

Ms Cowie started to display signs of pre-eclampsia in November 2021, and needed frequent visits to Dr Gray’s.

She said: “Every day we were either in or out of the hospital or had a community midwife at the house.

Dad Shane Slater, mum Billie Cowie, and baby Elsie
Dad Shane Slater, mum Billie Cowie, and baby Elsie

“But it got to the stage where Dr Gray’s couldn’t do much more for me so I had to start travelling back and forward to Aberdeen and overnight stays there instead.

“My partner would be waiting with me all night in Aberdeen to decide whether or not I would be kept in, and would then have to go back home to Buckie after midnight.

“But the visitor opening times start at 8am so he would come back in for that.

“It was a nightmare.

“If Dr Gray’s had its maternity services reinstated, there would be no stress for patients having to travel all that way.

“There are definitely things that can be done to make it better and a lot more manageable.”

Calls for coronavirus guidance to change

Ms Cowie ended up being induced at 37 weeks in Aberdeen and delivered baby Elsie by C-section.

Shortly after giving birth she developed a high temperature and then tested positive for coronavirus.

She says she was put in a room with her baby on her own and left to it.

Billie Cowie and baby Elsie
Billie Cowie and baby Elsie

The first-time mum now also wants to see coronavirus guidance updated so no other mums are left in the situation she was.

She said: “Before I tested positive I was told I shouldn’t be standing up by myself or hardly lifting my baby, but then I was just left to it.

“It was a real struggle through the night as my pain increased and I buzzed for pain relief and because my wound was weeping.

“But no one came to see me.

“Eventually one did and left to go and get clean dressings, but she never came back.

“My bedsheets were covered in blood because my wound had opened up because I had done too much in the night because I wasn’t getting any support.”

Mum Billie Cowie and baby Elsie
Mum Billie Cowie and baby Elsie

Baby Elsie ended up having to be sent home with dad Shane in Buckie instead while Ms Cowie stayed in Aberdeen to get her wound treated.

Ms Cowie added: “I was hardly getting any attention and I felt like a burden because the staff had to put on extra PPE to come into my room.

“I was told they were extremely understaffed because so many were off self-isolating, but it was an absolute shambles, you shouldn’t be chucked into a room and then left.

“It was a nightmare and I don’t think I will ever get over it.”

She added: “Had I not had Covid I could have been transferred back to Dr Gray’s – the care I got there was second to none, the staff are just amazing.

“If I could have gone to Elgin it would have been much better.

Baby Elsie Slater

“Hopefully they can make some changes because I can’t imagine ever going back for a second baby and having to go through that ordeal again.”

A spokeswoman for NHS Grampian said: “We have met with Ms Cowie to discuss the issues she has raised and are in the process of completing our investigation.

“We will respond to her directly, in the meantime we hope she is recovering well and is enjoying time with her new daughter.”

Nicola Sturgeon hears concerns

Billie revealed her experience on the day Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross raised the plight of new mums in Moray with the first minister in Holyrood.

The Highlands and Islands MSP has first-hand experience of the situation facing families in his constituency.

He was told his wife may be forced to give birth in a lay-by on the A96 while travelling to Aberdeen to give birth to their son James last year.

Douglas Ross, wife Krystle, son Alistair and one week old son James.
Douglas Ross, wife Krystle, son Alistair and one week old son James.

Recounting the experience of one Moray mum, Mr Ross read out to Nicola Sturgeon: “I have been told that if I had a bleed before giving birth the chances were slim that I would survive and consequently neither would my baby.

“I spent months in constant fear that I would bleed.

“Then the worst happened and I started bleeding at home.

“I was transferred initially to Dr Gray’s, then to Aberdeen in a blue light ambulance.

“The bleeding did initially stop and I was told my baby had a heartbeat but when the bleeding started again on the way to Aberdeen, I was told the heartbeat had gone.

“I therefore thought my baby was dead and it was likely I was next.”

Luckily the mother and baby survived, but the mum said it had taken her a year to be able to speak about her experience.

Looking visibly emotional, Ms Sturgeon said “many of us, myself included, have personal experiences around baby loss at different stages”.

She said she “absolutely understand the emotion, the sensitivity and the seriousness of these issues” and that she “does not underplay the seriousness”.

Review into maternity services

The SNP leader said a recent review into Moray maternity services had been commissioned as part of her government’s commitment to the “reintroduction of consultant-led maternity services at Dr Gray’s in a safe and sustainable way”.

The independent review, which reported back in December, recommended that pregnant women needing emergency delivery services in Elgin should be transferred to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness rather than Aberdeen.

Dr Gray's Hospital, Elgin
Dr Gray’s Hospital, Elgin

But more than a dozen clinicians have written an open letter to Health Secretary Humza Yousaf to say its findings were “unworkable and unsafe”, warning of risks of overcrowding.

Mr Ross says they have not yet had a response from the SNP minister.

Ms Sturgeon said: “The government will meet again with NHS Grampian and NHS Highland to look at practical next steps and core to that will be listening to clinicians at Raigmore in any further discussions.”