Doing better by our babies

As increasing attention is placed upon maternity services in the region, one thing is certain: neither mothers nor health professionals can dictate the arrival of babies into this world.

Elective caesareans aside, babies will arrive when and where they choose, whether mothers, midwives, doctors, ambulance or rescue helicopter staff are ready for them or not. Anyone in the game will tell you this: at the end of the day, newborns call the shots.

Thus, repeated Southern District Health Board statements about it being important for mothers and midwives to plan well ahead of deliveries are idealistic, at best.

You cannot ever plan absolutely for a delivery, and plans can be rendered useless with a speedy or complicated delivery.

Of course, such scenarios are more complicated in rural areas where maternity services are thinly stretched. Issues of distance and adverse weather conditions add to the mix.

The journey of rural mothers has always been more complex and always will be. Nothing can change the reality of things such as Dunedin being 275km from Wanaka, or of anaesthetists generally only being based at city hospitals.

So, what has changed - if anything?

The response from rural midwives is "a lot''. They say maternity services are becoming increasingly stretched and inequitable and significant change is needed urgently so mothers feel safe giving birth in their home district, and to prevent rural midwives leaving the profession due to unsustainable working conditions and pay. One midwife has even asked the Prime Minister and Health Minister to visit Central Otago and the Queenstown Lakes district, to grasp the reality of the worsening situation there.

But the blame is mostly laid at the feet of the SDHB, which is accused of ignoring the increasing growth in some districts and merely shifting services around, rather than retaining what exists and adding additional services.

MPs have weighed in on the issue, with varying authority and clout. Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker has led the charge in his patch, organising a 5000-signature petition calling for the downgraded Lumsden Maternity Centre to be saved and being widely praised for the attention he has forced upon the issue.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean's intentions to improve services in her district are no doubt just as pure, but during her recent campaign criticising staff shortages at Alexandra's Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital, she was accused of circulating false information, saying the facility had twice been closed for births when it was not.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan responded, saying ``while Jacqui and I will fight the same fight to ensure rural health services get the funding they need, using emotive and incorrect language to make a point is not something I would do''.

No-one wants to or should scaremonger over this issue. Causing expectant mothers undue alarm will not help.

But the gravity of the situation cannot be underestimated and the health board should be doing more for rural areas with growing populations.

The shortage of midwives is a national one and not peculiar to Otago and Southland. There is also never enough money to go around, and the southern health board faces an uphill struggle with its clearly insufficient government funding.

But southern midwives still need more resources and recognition, beyond recent additional payments the health board has made, to allow them to keep performing their roles.

Delivering healthy babies should be at the top of everyone's list, and those doing the job - mothers and midwives alike - should not be penalised because of where they live.

It is to be hoped the health board's continued consultation and planning will acknowledge this, and do more to strengthen rural maternity services than is being done at present.



It appears our Southern MPs are more concerned about putting resources into abortion than maternity care.

Less babies is there way of thinking...

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