Downgrade for Lumsden maternity unit

Lumsden is now to be one of five maternal and child hubs. Photo: ODT files
Lumsden is now to be one of five maternal and child hubs. Photo: ODT files
A battle to save the status of Lumsden's maternity centre has been lost, with the Southern District Health Board today confirming it will be downgraded to a non-birthing unit.

The news is slightly better for Wanaka, whose midwives had been calling for the Central Otago town to be given primary birthing unit status.

Wanaka will also become a maternal and child hub, but may still be upgraded as the SDHB intends to further review the best location for a primary birthing unit in Central Otago.

Hamish Walker
Hamish Walker

The SDHB released a draft of its maternity system of care proposals in March this year, but a final version had been delayed for several weeks due to strong community reaction to the proposals - especially in Lumsden, where residents organised a petition and staged a protest to try and retain the maternity centre's status.

A statement from the SDHB said last year Lumsden catered for less than one birth a week.

"It is also relatively close to two further primary birthing units, in Winton and Gore.

"In this context, providing a fully-staffed 24/7 inpatient maternity service at this centre does not make the best use of maternity resources to support a system of care across all of the southern district.''

Lumsden and Te Anau would instead become maternal and child hubs.

"With services focused on antenatal and postnatal care and facilities for urgent births, (they will) provide a better match for the level of demand for services in this area,'' the SDHB said.

Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker said the downgrade of Lumsden was "a kick in the guts to Southland and rural New Zealand''.

Mr Walker predicted Lumsden would continue to try and preserve its status, and said directors of the medical centre would meet on Monday to discuss their options.

"Mothers will be asked to travel 130km to give birth because this Government does not listen to the serious concerns raised by our community,'' he said.

Lumsden Maternity Centre is owned by the Northern Southland Health Company charity.

Director Carrie Adams said the NSHC was disappointed at the SDHB's decision and concerned about what the implications would be for mothers in the region.

"The safety of the women and babies in our district is paramount, and we are of the belief that hasn't been properly litigated in the current proposal.''

NSHC was reviewing its options in the wake of today's decision and could potentially seek judicial review. Mrs Adams said. 


The plan will see Southern have eight birthing units (Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, Gore, Oamaru, Balclutha, Winton, Alexandra) and five maternal and child hubs (Wanaka, Te Anau, Lumsden, Tuatapere, Ranfurly).

Maternal and child hubs would be available for urgent cases, but otherwise would provide ante and postnatal care.

Birthing options in Central Otago remained to be determined, although Alexandra's Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital would remain a birthing unit for now, the SDHB said.

"While the population in the central lakes area is growing, the ability to sustain a primary maternity facility in this area is not clear.

"There are outstanding questions around the best location for a primary birthing unit for central Otago in the long term, and we will establish a process to explore this question.''

Southern DHB primary and community executive director Lisa Gestro said it had been a challenge to find a model which met the needs of people in the country's largest DHB.

"Developing a new layer of support to lead maternity carers and women through the maternal and child hubs, investing in technology and above all taking steps to support our remote rural LMC midwives to have their work better remunerated as they carry out their all-important roles has been fundamental to this,'' Mrs Gestro said.

"We are creating a system that has built-in flexibility, so we can adapt to ongoing changes in our populations and community and workforce needs.''

• See tomorrow's Otago Daily Times for more details and reaction.

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