Legal action possible as Lumsden unit downgraded

Deb Harvey
Deb Harvey
Lumsden Maternity Centre may take legal action over the Southern District Health Board’s decision to downgrade its services.

The centre is a primary birthing unit but under the SDHB’s maternity strategy, released yesterday, it will become a "maternal and child hub" — offering ante and postnatal care, but  used by birthing mothers only in case of emergency.

Also disappointed by yesterday’s announcement were Wanaka midwives, whose push for the Central Otago town to have a primary birthing unit was unsuccessful.

Wanaka will also become a hub, but the SDHB intends to further review the best location for a primary birthing unit in the region, meaning it may still be upgraded.

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

Director Carrie Adams said the NSHC had just received SDHB planning documents and reports under the Official Information Act, and would review those before deciding its next step.

"We do have concerns about the foundations on which those reports were written," Mrs Adams said."Legal advice is being sought on the possibility of judicial review."

In the meantime, NSHC would begin planning for how it would function were it ultimately unsuccessful and obliged to become to a hub.

"We have next to no details as to what that would entail and how it would run," Mrs Adams said.

"But we are in an massive catchment area and it is just not safe, the distances the DHB is proposing for accessing a primary unit ... we’re not talking about distances from Lumsden, we’re talking about distances from Te Anau, which is another hour up the road, as well as a 90-lot subdivision in Kingston, where a lot of young families who will want to travel to primary units will be."

Wanaka midwife Deb Harvey said she was disappointed the case she and her colleagues made for Wanaka to get  a primary centre was rejected.

"The hub is not exactly what we need, but it’s better than what we’ve got."

The main disappointment, Ms Harvey said, was the LMC retention package, which she felt was not substantial enough for staff to stay in places like Wanaka, which earlier this year was reduced to just one full-time midwife.

"The package won’t be enough, not really ... it is constantly a reactive rather than a proactive approach."

Southern DHB primary and community executive director Lisa Gestro said delays in announcing the decision about Lumsden showed how seriously NSHC’s case had been considered.

"We looked at it from every angle and the SDHB commissioners needed to be satisfied that all concerns had been addressed," Mrs Gestro said.

Hubs in Te Anau and Lumsden should provide expectant mothers with services the equal of, if not better than, what was offered now, she said.

Improved telehealth services would also help patients in remote areas.

"My concern still is around the workforce, and we have put really strong messaging in there about valuing the LMC workforce."

The new structure was flexible and the SDHB would be able to react quickly to any changes in population or health needs, Mrs Gestro said.

Birthing options in Central Otago are still to be determined, and will be reviewed.

Alexandra’s Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital remains a birthing unit for now, but changing population numbers in Cromwell, Wanaka and Alexandra could lead to that changing.


Maternity plan

Eight birthing units. Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, Gore, Oamaru, Balclutha, Winton, Alexandra.

• Five mother and child hubs, offering ante and postnatal care. Wanaka, Te Anau, Lumsden, Tuatapere, Ranfurly.

• Further review of services in Central Otago.

• Sustainability package means additional payments to lead maternity carers of rural patients.

• SDHB to fund capital and new equipment costs for establishing hubs.

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