Lumsden fighting maternity shake-up

"I'll be expecting a lot of roadside births when the birthing unit closes". Photo: ODT files
"I'll be expecting a lot of roadside births when the birthing unit closes". Photo: ODT files
The heart of the community will be ripped out if the Lumsden Maternity Centre is downgraded, local midwife Sarah Stokes says.

The proposal was one of several changes mooted by the Southern District Health Board this week as part of a proposed Southern maternity system of care.

Lumsden, now served by a primary birthing unit, would instead become a "non-birthing hub" if the changes were implemented.

"Our unit is at the heart of our community. There's nothing more special than another baby arriving, and it draws all our community in," Mrs Stokes said.

"I have been inundated with families contacting me offering their support and reiterating what the unit and its care has meant to them.

"This decision isn't a downgrade in my opinion, it's a withdrawal of services."

Mrs Stokes looks after mothers across a large swathe of Southland, including Lumsden, Gore, Te Anau and Winton.

With such long distances to travel and tricky rural roads to traverse, having places to give birth which were central for all was essential, she said.

"Most of my clients would live 1½-2½ hours away from Southland Hospital, so I'm expecting a lot of roadside births when the birthing unit closes."

Women and babies would be placed at risk by the changes, Mrs Stokes said.

"I've delivered babies at Lumsden to women with no known risk factors for bleeding and they've had massive haemorrhages after the birth.

"Up till now I've been able to safely help these women, as we are well resourced at the birthing unit to deal with massive haemorrhage and there are always other trained staff around to assist."

Lumsden is not taking the downgrade proposal lying down. A petition has been launched and a protest march is planned for March 17.

Carrie Smith, chairwoman of the Northern Southland Health Company - a charity which owns and operates the Lumsden Maternity Centre - said it supported plans by the SDHB to increase funding for services in Te Anau, but would be lobbying hard to oppose any downgrade of Lumsden's services.

"We object to the proposal as it stands, and we have a 2 to 3 week period during which we hope there will be a change of heart by the DHB."

The company wanted to work in partnership with the SDHB, and had invited representatives to meet the Lumsden community.

"A hub, no matter what sort of hub it is, cannot take the place of 24/7 care."

Clutha Southland MP Hamish Walker said his email inbox had been flooded with messages since the maternity services review outcome was announced.

"More than the practicalities of travel, the recurring theme of each email has been the quality of postnatal care and the integral role the maternity centre played in confidence as new parents and post-natal mental health," Mr Walker said.

"Why should women have to leave their communities to go through one of the most emotional experiences of their lives?"

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