Maternity care review criticised

Jacqui Dean
Jacqui Dean

The needs of parents in the Upper Clutha region are being ignored by the Southern District Health Board’s (SDHB) maternity services review, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean says.

However, Health Minister David Clark has defended the controversial review, saying it is offering better services to the area than it now has.

The maternity services review will mean eight birthing units operate in the SDHB region, and five mother and child hubs.

However, it will also result in Lumsden Maternity Centre’s services being downgraded and Wanaka having to await a further review to see if it will have a birthing unit, as local midwives have called for.

Mrs Dean said the Upper Clutha was among the fastest-growing regions in New Zealand, and its younger demographic meant more mothers and babies needing health services.

"While a hub is better than what Wanaka has now, which is very little, it doesn’t in any way answer the need for maternity services in Wanaka," she said.

"The review signalled nothing except for a review - there is a clearly identified need for a birthing unit in Wanaka based on existing population growth data, let alone population growth data which will be revealed in the census."

Mrs Dean said it would only be a matter of time before a birthing unit was needed in Wanaka, and asked how long the Government would delay before building one.

Dr Clark said Mrs Dean was playing politics with the issue.

"It is hard to understand National’s criticism of the decision to create a new maternity and child hub in Wanaka when that means there will be better support for mothers and babies in the area," he said.

"I’d also note that maternity hubs are deliberately intended to be flexible so they can adapt to the needs of changing populations.

"That could mean they become primary birthing units should this become necessary in future."

On Thursday it was revealed Dr Clark asked Ministry of Health officials to review the SDHB’s maternity plan before its public release on August 10.

"Changes to health services are often controversial," he said.

"That’s why I asked the ministry of health to review the DHB’s decision to give me assurance that the mothers and babies will continue to get the high-quality services they deserve.

"The expert advice to me is that the DHB’s plan will deliver high-quality care and service across the region."

National health spokesman Michael Woodhouse was surprised ministry officials had scrutinised the SDHB’s work.

"I was surprised he didn’t say so earlier ...  then he would have been better placed to justify the decision, had he said he had given it that much scrutiny."

However, Mr Woodhouse said it was difficult to give Dr Clark’s assurances credence when his information was that Lumsden Maternity Centre felt engagement with them had been very poor.

"This community wants to know whether their mums and babies will be more safe or less safe as a consequence of this, and there hasn’t been enough scrutiny of that."

mike.houlahan@odt.co.nz

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