Maternity care returns to normal

Photo: ODT file
Photo: ODT file
Queen Mary maternity ward returned to business as usual yesterday after weekend staff shortages meant postnatal patients in the Dunedin ward had to be moved elsewhere.

For the first time, maternity staff set up a "maternity pod annex" to provide temporary cover because of a lack of hospital midwives available at the weekend.

Things were back to normal yesterday morning and Southern District Health Board midwifery director Karen Ferracioli said the three days passed without incident thanks to the understanding of patients and the dedication of staff.

"This strategy worked well for Queen Mary over the past few days and we are confident we will be able to implement it again at short notice should it be required."

Midwifery Employee Representation and Advisory Service co-leader Caroline Conroy said the DHB had recognised early on there would be staffing issues, had consulted all staff, and put a plan in place to manage the situation.

"We were quite happy with that and the local reps there knew all about it," Ms Conroy said.

"They have a birthing suite, an antenatal ward and a postnatal ward and quite often each of the wards have spare beds, and there is always a midwife on the antenatal ward, so it makes sense to consolidate all the women on to one ward for the weekend if you have the space."

Ms Conroy said the staffing situation at Queen Mary was one frequently encountered in hospitals around the country.

She kept in contact with Ms Ferracioli at the weekend, who had assured her women in Queen Mary were regularly seen by a paediatrician, obstetrician and senior midwives.

"They got a good level of care. It was a reasonable option given the staffing circumstances."

Last month, SDHB chief executive Chris Fleming said the board’s midwifery service was an "extreme risk" as only 52.5% of positions were filled in Dunedin and 17.3% in Southland, and that both sites had employed registered nurses to support midwifery staff.

Ms Conroy said the Queen Mary situation was not ideal and was symptomatic of a recent shortage of midwives in Dunedin.

"Dunedin was comparatively well resourced until recently ... but most of the new graduate midwives have been offered packages in the North Island and some others have opted to be lead maternity carer midwives in Dunedin — that’s good because it will help out that workforce.

"A couple are going to Invercargill, which is great, but the rest are going to the North Island, which is a shame, but they have been offering them attractive packages for the past two to three years."

Otago was training enough midwives but was battling to retain them, Ms Conroy said.

Ms Ferracioli said southern staff and services had to be adaptable and work together throughout the district to provide women and babies with the care required.

"We have to find solutions to the staffing shortage we face in such a rewarding profession, and we will continue to listen to our staff and community feedback to improve our service."

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