22 Mar 2018

DHB admits stats wrong in tense public meeting

8:31 am on 22 March 2018

Tempers frayed in Lumsden in Southland last night as 250 locals strongly rejected the closure of the town's birthing centre.

A Lumsden mother speaking at the public meeting last night.

A Lumsden mother speaking at the public meeting last night. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The public meeting packed out the Lumsden Memorial Hall to reject the centre's proposed downgrading to a maternity health hub.

The Southern District Health Board wants to use the funds to create new hubs in Te Anau and Wanaka, which currently have no maternity centres.

But speakers told the health board its case for the closure was based on wrongly defined catchments numbers, and posed unacceptable risks.

"This isn't just a bunch of women stomping our feet and wanting to burn our maternity bras ... safety is my biggest concern", one woman told the DHB.

The battle over pregnancy numbers

The real heat came on when debating the numbers of pregnancies in Lumsden birthing centre's catchment.

A sheep farmer, Jules, accused the DHB of fudging the numbers to suits its argument.

A speaker receives a standing ovation.

A speaker receives a standing ovation. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

He asked why the nearby town of Waikaia was included in the catchment for Gore's maternity unit, when it had much stronger links to Lumsden.

The argument is crucial because the Ministry of Health requires district health boards to provide a primary birthing unit anywhere there are 100 pregnancies more than an hour's drive from a hospital, which is in this case is Invercargill.

The DHB's numbers state Lumsden's area only has about 65 pregnancies a year, but locals are adamant that figure is way too low.

At times the DHB managers speaking were jeered and appeared rattled, as the crowd cheered and gave three standing ovations to its own speakers.

Main midwife threatens to quit

The biggest cheers were for the midwives, who were treated as local heroes as a national midwifery crisis worsens.

The only full-time midwife in northern Southland, Sarah Stokes, warned the DHB she would quit if the maternity centre is told to shut down.

"The day you issue a closure date for Lumsden, I stop taking bookings," she said.

The only full-time midwife in northern Southland, Sarah Stokes.

The only full-time midwife in northern Southland, Sarah Stokes. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

Mrs Stokes said her midwifery record was well above average but could not be sustained without the birthing centre.

"If you want to create a repeat Wanaka maternity crisis then go ahead", she said.

The heated exchanges led to the health board promising it would not decide until the parties could all agree on the numbers of pregnancies in the area and it had won midwives' support.

The board's chief executive, Chris Fleming, said afterwards the overall system it was planning was robust, but it was now clear the catchment models were wrong and would have to be reworked.

The trust, which run's Lumden's centre, said it was sure the DHB has heard its message and was now optimistic the birthing unit could be saved.

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