INVESTIGATIONS into the care of mothers who die in childbirth are being scrapped in Scotland, removing a vital safety net, a leading maternity consultant has warned.

Dr Hilary MacPherson, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist in Forth Valley – where a GP died after giving birth to a stillborn daughter last year – has spoken out about a plan to stop scrutinising such deaths north of the Border and instead send all of the information to England.

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) Scotland shares her fears, and intends to raise the matter with Health Secretary Alex Neil.

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The issue came to light after The Herald revealed more than 40 women have died as a result of pregnancy or delivery in Scotland in the last decade and the number appears to have risen in recent years.

Dr MacPherson said: "There is a grave danger that the changes will result in poorer quality of information, poorer interrogation of data and therefore failure to recognise patterns of preventable harm."

Dr MacPherson, who is chairwoman of the group that assesses maternal deaths in Scotland, said these had been investigated in the country for decades, and also fed into a UK-wide inquiry.

This UK system is now being revamped, and Dr MacPherson and RCM Scotland say they have been told Scottish hospitals will send details of deaths straight to this programme, and not to the Scottish assessors group.

Details of stillbirth and deaths of newborn infants, which have also been reviewed locally, are to be treated the same way.

Dr MacPherson said: "The value for Scotland about a group of clinicians reviewing all cases is that you can pick up trends within Scotland without being constrained by the confidential nature of the inquiry.

"You could flag (a potential concern) up to Health Improvement Scotland and if you thought it was something really serious you would take it to that health board."

Gillian Smith, director of RCM Scotland, said: "The RCM is concerned about where this collection of data will go. In Scotland we have been in a unique position of being able to analyse that data because we have had human resources in place to do it.

"We need to make sure it is not just a data-collection exercise and the data that is collected enhances the care further down the line. If it is just a data collection exercise it is useless."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "The new process will see Scottish data reviewed by a collaboration of well-respected researchers with whom Scotland has worked closed with for many years.

"While data will be incorporated in the UK-wide figures, Scottish data will continue to be used in Scotland by a new expert improvement advisory group."