SHARE
Maternity service . . . Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital sits in Ventry St in Alexandra. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

Central Otago maternity services have come under the spotlight in recent weeks due to staff shortages at Alexandra’s Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital and resulting commentary by Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan responded that some of Mrs Dean’s statements were factually incorrect.

Now a Central Otago midwife has spoken out, inviting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to visit Central Otago to inspect maternity services in the district. Pam Jones revisits recent developments.

Claims Central Otago women recently had nowhere to give birth for two days because Alexandra’s Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital was closed were incorrect, Charlotte Jean manager Roger O’Brien said last month.

In fact, Charlotte Jean’s support staff were unavailable for post-natal care during an 11-hour period on July 9, but the facility was still available for midwives to use for deliveries during that period, Mr O’Brien said.

Charlotte Jean management advised Central Otago midwives in advance they would need to arrange backup support from other midwives during that time, but no midwives had reported any women needed to change their preferred place of birth and there were no births during that period, he said.

The situation arose because of staff illness and no-one being available to fill the roster at short notice, Mr O’Brien said.

He said it was the first time Charlotte Jean had no support staff available for a period of time, and management apologised to any women affected by the issue.

Leading up to July 9, two women who had given birth at Queen Mary Hospital in Dunedin needed to complete their post-natal stay at Queen Mary instead of transferring to Charlotte Jean, he said.

But Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said Charlotte Jean had been “closed down for the day on at least two occasions recently, leaving local mothers with nowhere to birth”, and the incident was “totally unheard of and unacceptable”.

However, that was incorrect, and Mrs Dean had not contacted Charlotte Jean management “to verify the facts or to get more information to understand the situation”, Mr O’Brien said.

Mrs Dean subsequently said that regardless of the arrangements Charlotte Jean had made, it was “not ideal” to have no nursing staff available to support midwives.

Central Otago Mayor Tim Cadogan weighed in on the Central Otago maternity services issue later that month, posting on Facebook to clarify the reality of the reduction of services and saying “I am satisfied that the situation . . . was not as bad as it may have been portrayed . . . by some seeking to gain a political point or two from it”.

He this week said he was “disappointed” Mrs Dean continued to distribute comments he called “factually incorrect”.

“People in positions such as those Jacqui and I are privileged to hold have an absolute responsibility to truth and accuracy. While Jacqui and I will fight the same fight to ensure rural health services get the funding they need, using emotive and incorrect language to make a point is not something I would do.”

Mrs Dean said [later] she did not want to go into “what’s incorrect or correct”, but it was true the facility had been closed for a period for post-natal admissions, and only available for deliveries if midwives provided their own back up, “which rendered it [Charlotte Jean] effectively closed”.

Three Central Otago midwives, as well as Mrs Dean, agreed it was the health board’s refusal to acknowledge growth in the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district, and provide sufficient additional funding and services, that was the problem.

Health board executive director strategy, primary and community Lisa Gestro said the growth in the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district was “one of the key reasons we needed to re-look at the provision of maternity services across the district”.

“This is why we are utilising our maternity resources differently, establishing maternal and child hubs in Lumsden, Te Anau and Wanaka, and redirecting resources to provide additional payments to LMC midwives (who receive their income from the Ministry of Health), paying for relief midwives to enable time off, and supporting their business costs.”

The health board had also increased its funding to Charlotte Jean by 13% over the last 10 months and, more broadly, had made additional payments to all southern LMCs, resulting in an extra $250,000 being paid out to about 21 LMC midwives over the last 12 months.

This week a Central Otago midwife has spoken out and invited the Prime Minister and Health Minister to visit the region “to get a better understanding of what women and midwives are facing on a daily basis”.

Suzanne McIntosh, of Lake Dunstan Midwives, said maternity services were “ever-increasingly stretched, inequitable and often lacking in order to support women and the midwives. Significant changes and actions need to happen urgently . . . to reduce the haemorrhage of women travelling to Dunedin to ‘feel safe’ and midwives leaving the profession and local area due to unsustainable working conditions and pay”.

No response was received from the office of the Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, to questions about Ms McIntosh’s invitation.

A statement from Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter said she was taking maternity services “seriously”.

“I am continuing to meet with key stakeholders as it is clear change is needed. Southern DHB have questions to answer about how they will ensure pregnant women, new mothers and their babies get the care they need.”

Ms Genter said the 2018 and 2019 budgets brought a “long overdue” 14% pay increase to midwives.

“I have asked the Ministry of Health what else we can do and I will continue to advocate for women’s health,” she said.

No response to questions sent to the health board was received.

However, previous statements from Ms Gestro said the health board had increased its funding to Charlotte Jean by 13% over the last 10 months, recognising the need for Charlotte Jean to offer competitive salaries to its staff following increases to the salaries of nurses and midwives employed under collective agreements after industrial action last year.

pam.jones@odt.co.nz