Midwifery service in crisis

Wanaka will be down to just one full-time midwife in Deb Harvey (right) once Morgan Weathington ...
Wanaka will be down to just one full-time midwife in Deb Harvey (right) once Morgan Weathington (left) steps down from her position in April because the job does not pay well enough to cover her bills. PHOTO: SEAN NUGENT
Wanaka will be left with only one working midwife from April, and potentially none by the end of the year as the workload becomes increasingly unsustainable.

The situation in Wanaka, where there has been a shortage of midwives and lack of maternity services for years, has reached crisis point, Deb Harvey, of Wanaka Midwives, says.

Her counterpart, Morgan Weathington, will step down in early April because she can no longer afford to do the job, leaving Ms Harvey the lone full-time midwife in Wanaka.

Ms Weathington said it had got to the point ``where you can't actually pay the bills by doing the job''.

There is no funding provided by the Southern District Health Board.

The women provide the town's only obstetric service on their Ministry of Health salaries, which do not cover all their costs, which they must meet out of their own pockets.

They expect to care for 200 women this year, compared with 180 last year.

Other women in the district are cared for throughout their pregnancies mainly by midwives based in Alexandra.

``We are the emergency obstetric service in Wanaka so we are asked to provide care to stabilise and transfer women. That's unrecognised by the health board monetarily so we provide that service on our primary maternity salary. It makes it costly both time-wise and financially to provide the job up here,'' Ms Weathington said.

Since 2015, the pair had been asking the health board to assist in some way, but so far have had no luck.

``We would like to be recompensed at least for our time, our consumables and our space. Personally we rent the space between the two of us,'' Ms Harvey said.

Ms Weathington said she was moving on because the job was unsustainable.

``What's happening now is the midwives are being exploited by the Government. We have the skill and the caring nature so we do the job, but what's happening is we're now being paid, after expenses, $5 to $10 an hour and we're working 100-plus-hour weeks.''

Ms Harvey said those were the main reasons for the lack of midwives.

``We have about eight registered midwives [living] in Wanaka, but so few want to actually do this job.''

She believed she would be unable to do the job for long on her own, meaning the situation could end up being similar to Te Anau last year, where the last midwife, Jo Lundman, quit after struggling to make ends meet.

``We don't want it to look like that but I think by the end of the year, that's what it's going to look like,'' Ms Harvey said.

Ms Weathington described the situation as ``terrifying for families up here''.

Former midwife Pauline Hunter worked in Wanaka for nearly 14 years before retiring last Christmas and said at times she also worked for about $5 an hour.

She said Wanaka had a midwife crisis when she first moved to the area in 2004, when the town had just one midwife for the growing population.

Despite the situation occurring again, she did not think the SDHB would provide any funding in the near future.

``The DHB aren't going to come up with anything they're in such dire straits. It's up to the Ministry [of Health]. There should be an emergency fund. If there was a GP shortage the ministry would step in and provide funding.

``There's only so much you can do. In this job you can't afford to be too tired; you don't want to make mistakes,'' Ms Hunter said.

Health board executive director strategy Lisa Gestro said it was aware of the situation and was ``working to ensure that there is midwifery coverage across the district''.

``We are working with the Ministry of Health, the College of Midwives and other partners to develop a solution ensuring appropriate midwifery cover. If required, Southern DHB will help provide midwifery services.''

The health board's primary maternity project was being finalised and would be released in coming weeks.

``It provides a road map for the future configuration of maternity services in the district, taking into consideration women's preferences, population and demographic shifts.''

sean.nugent@odt.co.nz

Comments

As a registered health professional you are expected to maintain well defined standards of care. Failing to do so, is not a good feeling. Why would anyone get out of bed for $9 an hour when the work requirements you will face almost certainly exceed safe professional practice. Cough up DHB.

Well said

 

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