Dearth of midwives an ‘urgent’ problem

Maureen Donnelly
Maureen Donnelly
A critical shortage of independent midwives in Dunedin is having a detrimental effect on the health of mothers and babies, experienced midwives say.

Expectant mothers are required to appoint a lead maternity carer, and the majority opt for an independent midwife.

In 2014, more than 70 LMC midwives were available for expectant Dunedin parents to choose from; there were now only about 14, College of Midwives Dunedin representative Maureen Donnelly said.

On those numbers, the service was unsustainable, and with further attrition might not be able to be provided at all by the end of the year, she said.

‘‘The LMC system is not functioning now; every day, we are constantly turning people away who are crying down the phone; sometimes as many as 10,’’ Ms Donnelly said.

She herself only accepted returning clients, and friends and family of past clients.

‘‘That puts everyone else out, all those lovely new mums who really need help their first time, but you can only do so much ... it’s awful to have to do it and I feel sorry for the women who are missing out.’’

Dunedin has a four-year pregnancy average of almost 1600, meaning the current LMC midwife workforce would have to care for more than 100 women per midwife annually, providing care during birth, as well as ante- and post-natal care.

Former midwives have cited high workloads, low income and poor work-life balance as reasons for leaving the profession.

Southern health officials are well aware of the plummeting availability of LMC midwives in Dunedin, and over Christmas instituted what was intended to be a short-term measure: using hospital midwives to provide cover during the holiday period.

The dearth of LMC midwives had led to that system continuing, SDHB acting director of midwifery Heather LaDell said.

‘‘The Queen Mary Outreach Midwifery service provides midwifery care for all women in Dunedin who are unable to find a midwife and will continue to do so until it is no longer required.

‘‘The LMC midwife system is under pressure throughout the country, and is currently being reviewed by the Ministry of Health.’’

Midwife Sue Nash said the dwindling number of colleagues meant Dunedin women and babies were missing out on the continuity of care LMC midwives provided.

‘‘It will have, and it already has had, a detrimental effect on women.’’

It also added to the pressures on the hospital system, she said, as women with no midwife to ring were instead presenting at the emergency department, which in turn often called in an obstetrician.

‘‘Some women are going home on a Saturday (after giving birth) and not getting a visit until Monday or Tuesday, and that can create quite a few problems for a brand new mum and brand new baby.’’

The College of Midwives is circulating a petition for the Government to ‘‘urgently and effectively address’’ issues with community-based midwifery.

As of yesterday, it had just over 21,000 signatures.

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