Maternity services to get boost

Lisa Gestro
Lisa Gestro
Maternity services in Otago and Southland are to be bolstered by the Southern District Health Board after concerns measures in its maternity plan did not do enough for midwives and mothers.

However, the Save Our Wanaka Midwives group says the package is underwhelming and would do little to encourage midwives to work in the seriously understaffed region.

The newly announced package includes:

• A $300 payment to self-employed midwives working with women who live in remote areas.

• An after-hours/emergency relief midwife service in Wanaka and Te Anau.

• New regular midwifery clinics, expected to be held in Alexandra, Wanaka, Te Anau and Lumsden.

The SDHB’s primary maternity care strategy has provoked protests throughout the region,  Lumsden residents decrying the downgrading of the Lumsden Maternity Centre from a birthing centre, and Wanaka residents demanding that they should have a birthing centre rather than a "maternal and child hub".

In August, SDHB primary and community executive director Lisa Gestro said  the board was prepared to reconsider its plans in the wake of concerns from midwives and residents.

Yesterday, Mrs Gestro said the SDHB had worked with interested parties to "refine and improve" its package of support for lead maternity carers.

"We feel we have created a package of support that will help ensure the health and sustainability of the midwifery workforce across the district, ensuring that appropriate care is available to women and their babies."

Save Our Wanaka Midwives spokeswoman Kristi James gave the SDHB credit for looking closely at the issue, but said she felt the package would do little to encourage recruitment and retention of midwives in Wanaka.

"What we really need, more than anything, is more midwives working in the region," Ms James said.

"Money is great — little bits here and there help — but it’s not enough to make anybody think ‘wow, they are seriously trying to make a change here and it makes me want to come back to work’."

A locum midwife’s contract is about to end, which will leave the fast-growing area served by a single midwife.

"We need to offer midwives a sustainability package which will make an impact," Ms James said.

In Te Anau, midwife Jo Lundman — the only midwife living in the township — said the changes were "a drop in a bucket",  but every little bit went towards keeping her in the area. With the exception of a year which she had taken off work, she had not had a proper holiday for "years and years" so the addition of changes which would allow her to take some time off  was a "huge" thing.

"I felt isolated and unsupported up here for lots and lots of years. I’ve been working unsustainably, actually," she said.

The SDHB has also appointed Otago midwife Heather LaDell to steer the implementation of its maternity system of care.

Ms LaDell, who has already started  her new role, will also co-ordinate the DHB’s maternity quality and safety improvement programme.

"I’ve been so eager to get started that I jumped right in and got out talking to people," she said in a statement.

"Collaboration and communication will be key to the success of the new integrated primary maternity system of care and we will work with providers, communities, new and expectant mothers, and health services to build a safe, high-quality and sustainable primary maternity system in the Southern region."

Meanwhile, a Southland MP said he was "incredibly frustrated" with a delay in examining a petition to stop the Lumsden Maternity Centre from closing.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker, who presented the petition to the health select committee in September, said the committee had been limited in its meetings, which had caused a delay in examining the petition.

The committee would not have the opportunity to examine the petition until the next sitting week, from October 16, he said.

The SDHB confirmed in August the centre would be downgraded to a non-birthing unit.

The petition to save the centre was presented to the committee after a lack of action from Health Minister David Clark, he said.

The community was "on edge" and needed certainty surrounding the future of rural health services, he said.

Members of the health select committee did not reply to requests for comment yesterday. 

- Mike Houlahan & Sharon Reece

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