By Mike Houlahan for the Otago Daily Times (https://www.odt.co.nz/)
An additional short-term on-call midwife will be hired to cover births in Lumsden, following a meeting aimed at quelling the war of words over maternity services in Northern Southland.
The district has fought a spirited campaign to try to preserve its maternity centre as a primary birthing unit, after the Southern District Health Board opted to replace it with a "maternal and child hub" as part of its region-wide review of maternity services.
Since the transition there have been a string of emergency births involving Lumsden women.
Parliament is still considering a petition which calls for Lumsden Maternity Centre to be saved.
While the SDHB has not gone so far as to resile from the changes introduced by its maternity strategy, the hiring of an extra midwife does signify some acknowledgement of concerns expressed by Lumsden residents, particularly on after-hours care.
A meeting held in Gore on Thursday night to try to reach a truce in an increasingly bitter dispute was attended by representatives from the SDHB, local midwives, GPs, the Ministry of Health, the College of Midwives, Gore Health and Lumsden Maternity Centre operators the Northern Southland Medical Trust.
It was chaired by Gore District Mayor Tracy Hicks and Lumsden midwife Nicky Pealing, who was at the meeting, said participants had been told they were to focus on solutions and not debate past decisions.
"In the past they have talked about midwives being ready and willing to be on call, but they live in Gore or Winton, which for me is not good enough, as they are still 45 minutes away.
"What I got last night was a guarantee that there would be a midwife at Lumsden, staying in the flat in Lumsden paid for by the DHB; that was the immediate solution and I'm happy with that."
The meeting also agreed Northern Southland needed at least three full-time lead maternity carers to enable proper back-up and support for such a large area, Ms Pealing said.
A third person would now be hired to support the two LMCs already in place.
"The College of Midwives has offered to put in a locum midwife in the interim while we find those three midwives and find how to pay them."
Ms Pealing, who has withdrawn her services due to concerns about safety at the new Lumsden hub, welcomed the progress made at the meeting but said it would have made more sense to recommission the existing building.
"If they are paying for an on-call midwife at Lumsden, why not reopen it as a birthing centre?"
Ms Pealing said post-natal care remained a major concern for Lumsden women and she hoped there would be progress on that soon.
Mr Hicks said those at the meeting committed to continuing discussions over specific options to improve maternity services in the region.
"The meeting was a positive step in providing an opportunity to share understandings, and we thank everyone for their attendance and participation.
"The right people were in the room and have agreed to work collaboratively in finding solutions that work for our maternity workforce and our community."
Lumsden GP Mathew Stokes, a vocal critic of the change from a birthing unit to a maternal hub, hoped the meeting - which he attended - would represent some progress for his patients.
"At least we are around the table," Dr Stokes said. "We are trying to move forward towards a solution and we will see how things go."
A further meeting is planned for two to three weeks' time.
This story first appeared in the Otago Daily Times.