A Southland maternity centre that was turned into an unstaffed hub has been told DHB officials will not attend a meeting tomorrow about its future for fear of a confrontation.
Since the Lumsden Maternity Centre was downgraded to a non-birthing unit in April, some mothers in the rural community have been unable to get to a primary birthing unit in time.
In an email, senior Southland District Health Board official Lisa Gestro said a group meeting would "become confrontational" and make it "difficult to explore solutions".
"We don't think this approach is helpful and for now we plan to concentrate on the establishment of the hub and on the sustainability of midwifery services for the district," she said.
Northern Southland Medical Trust, which oversees the Lumsden hub, said its two midwives were working solo when they should have backup.
Trust director Carrie Adams said the DHB's refusal to attend the meeting with those on the frontline "sends a message that the Southland DHB do not wish to engage with the very people that a successful maternity system relies upon".
One mother gave birth in an ambulance on the way to Lumsden less than a fortnight ago, and another woman gave birth at the hub last week.
Another director of the trust, Hannah Blakely, said she wanted the DHB to talk to them and the midwives about how it planned to provide the backup support they were required to have under health regulations.
"It is okay for them to come and admit they got it wrong, we will accept that. But it's not okay to put any midwife in a position to deliver a baby by themselves anywhere, and certainly not in the back of the ambulance on the side of the road."
She said a local MP and representatives from the College of Midwives and Ministry of Health were attending the meeting to talk about making the service safe for those on the frontline - midwives and their patients.
"It would be really good to have an open and frank discussion with them about where we're placed in the health and safety issues that are coming out of this lack of backup cover.
"If the DHB aren't going to come to the table and discuss things then where to from here? We'll have to go back and evaluate."
In a statement, Ms Gestro said DHB officials were open to conversations about how to implement maternity care.
"Our previous engagements facilitated by the trust have not always been constructive and some work will be required before we are confident this represents a positive way forward," she said.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said they would also not be attending and had told the organisers.
"We have wished the meeting well and hope it is productive," the spokesperson said.