Board working to secure full rosters

Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital, in Ventry St, Alexandra, recently had no support staff...
Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital, in Ventry St, Alexandra, recently had no support staff available for post-natal care during an 11-hour period. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Central Otago’s sole birthing unit has been drawn into the debate over maternity issues, following a situation where post-natal support was unavailable for mothers and babies for an 11-hour period at Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital. Pam Jones looks at the service provided in the district.

Claims Central Otago women recently had nowhere to give birth for two days because Alexandra's Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital was closed are incorrect, Charlotte Jean manager Roger O'Brien says.

In fact, Charlotte Jean's support staff were unavailable for post-natal care during an 11-hour period on July 9, but the facility was still available for midwives to use for deliveries during that period, Mr O'Brien said.

Charlotte Jean management advised Central Otago midwives in advance they would need to arrange backup support from other midwives during that time, but no midwives had reported any women needed to change their preferred place of birth and there ended up being no births during that period, he said.

The situation arose because of staff illness and no-one being available to fill the roster at short notice, Mr O'Brien said.

He said it was the first time Charlotte Jean had no support staff available for a period of time, and management apologised to any women affected by the issue.

Leading up to July 9, two women who had given birth at Queen Mary Hospital in Dunedin needed to complete their post-natal stay at Queen Mary instead of transferring to Charlotte Jean, he said.

Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said the incident was "totally unheard of and unacceptable", and said she had been contacted by a mother and midwife who were concerned about the issue.

A statement from Mrs Dean said Charlotte Jean had been "closed down for the day on at least two occasions recently, leaving local mothers with nowhere to birth".

However, Mrs Dean had not contacted Charlotte Jean management "to verify the facts or to get more information to understand the situation", Mr O'Brien said.

Mrs Dean subsequently told the Otago Daily Times that regardless of the arrangements Charlotte Jean had made, it was "not ideal" to have no nursing staff available to support midwives.

She said "on the face of it, maternity issues in Central Otago do appear to be worsening".

Mr O'Brien said Charlotte Jean management were working with the Southern District Health Board to address the "multiple issues" relating to the retention and recruitment of midwives in Central Otago.

The shortage was a nationwide problem, but the College of Midwives said in May this year the shortage in the southern district needed to be "urgently addressed", Mr O'Brien said.

Southern health board executive director strategy, primary and community Lisa Gestro said the board recognised there was "a challenge around securing a sustainable roster of staff" and was working with Charlotte Jean to ensure "appropriate" staffing was available in the future.

The health board had increased funding to Charlotte Jean twice in the past year, and was also providing additional payments to rural midwives, Ms Gestro said.

She said the "broader challenge" of the nationwide shortage of midwives was why the board was looking at where the best location for a birthing unit in Central Otago was, and consultation on that process would begin soon.

Charlotte Jean

• Has held a contract with the Southern District Health Board since 1997 to provide primary birthing facilities and post-natal care to Central Otago and Upper Clutha
families. It has one birthing suite and three post-natal rooms.

• Does not have midwives who are lead maternity carers, but has five registered midwives and/or nurses on its team who provide support to the nine lead maternity carer midwives throughout Central Otago, Upper Clutha and Queenstown Lakes district who use Charlotte Jean facilities. Women who give birth elsewhere can also transfer to Charlotte Jean for post-natal care.

• Almost 1500 babies have been born there since 1997. Last year there were 57 births but that is expected to be higher this year, 37 births having already been recorded in the first six months of 2019.

• As a primary birthing unit, facilities at Charlotte Jean include a resuscitaire, emergency equipment and pain relief options other than epidurals.

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