8 May 2019

Te Anau residents concerned about holes in maternity services

8:11 am on 8 May 2019

Promised maternity services haven't been delivered, leaving mothers and midwives in a precarious situation, Te Anau residents say.

Pregnant woman sitting on a bench.

Photo: 123RF

The Southern District Health Board announced the closure of the Lumsden Maternity Centre last August, outraging the community.

The plan was to create maternal and child hubs in five locations - Te Anau, Lumsden, Tuatapere, Wanaka and Ranfurly - where babies are only delivered in emergencies.

But nearly a month after the centre was downgraded, Te Anau GP Doctor Paula King, said the hub wasn't operational and neither was the Lumsden unit.

"We have received a backpack with some equipment for homebirthing, one delivery pack and we now have a confirmed list of drugs that we can stock, which we received last week, Dr King said.

Work was yet to begin on extending the Fiordland Medical Centre to house the hub and it was unlikely to be finished within two years, she said.

In the meantime they're using the existing emergency or treatment rooms for emergency births.

Southland mother Helen McFelin said the community had been left to fend for itself without birthing services or the maternal and child hubs.

"We were promised that the hubs would be set up and that care wouldn't be compromised ...what we have now is pretty much nothing," Ms McFelin said.

Doctor King said home births weren't a realistic option either as two midwives were required to attend.

There were only a couple of midwives prepared to operate under the new hub model in the whole northern Southland and they lived far apart, she said.

Dr King is one of a group of local health professionals heading to Wellington today to present their case to Parliament's Health Select Committee, which is considering whether to investigate the decision to downgrade the Lumsden Maternity Centre.

Women in labour now faced a daunting journey to get to a birthing centre, she said.

"Women now face a drive of at least an hour and half in labour, as opposed to less than one hour. A significant proportion of the women who birthed at Lumsden gave birth within 30 minutes of arrival, and we now expect some of those births will occur at the roadside unattended," Dr King said.

Community midwife Nicky Pealing stopped working in the area because she was worried the new hubs would trigger more callouts for roadside births.

"The possibility of getting called to that and I'm being the first on the scene, dealing with a cold baby, a mother that's bleeding, whatever the problem. It's not going to be the DHB that ends up being investigated ...and it's my practicing certificate that will be on the line and that's my income," Ms Pealing said.

It was one of the reasons she withdrew her services because she couldn't afford to take the risk.

Midwives covered vast areas up to Kingston, across to Milford Road, down to Riverton and over to Dipton.

Ms Pealing drove 65,000 kilometres last year alone.

The district health board didn't meet with midwives about the changes with until last month, she said.

Midwives had been left in the dark about how they would use the hubs - and she was worried postnatal care would be compromised.

In a statement, DHB Strategy, Primary and Community Executive Director Lisa Gestro insisted the Te Anau and Lumsden hubs were up and running.

"We are working with Fiordland Medical Centre, which is housing the maternal and child hub service and the hub is functional now in Te Anau.

"It has more services than has ever previously been available, and more services are planned," Ms Gestro said.

The services included paying for a midwife's clinic room in the community house adjacent to the centre's clinic, purchasing new monitoring and emergency equipment, and buying a special bed for rapid births, she said.

"The situation in Lumsden and Te Anau areas is not too different from women living in other remote areas," Ms Gestro said.

"Midwives work with women and families to formulate a birth plan including whether at home, at a primary birthing unit or at a base hospital."

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