Wanaka, Dunstan to house region’s birthing facilities

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Alexandra’s loss looks likely to be Wanaka’s gain with a fundamental shift in how maternity services are delivered across the region.

A 66-page decision document that whittled four potential options down to one
— known as option 4 — to locate primary birthing facilities at Wanaka and Dunstan Hospital was presented to a meeting of the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) on Tuesday.

The decision document did not include Alexandra’s Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital.

The preferred option and the two alternatives presented all suggested the maternity hospital be decommissioned.

The joint recommendation by the SDHB project team and the Central Lakes Locality Network (CLLN) was to implement option 4, the rationale behind which was the outlined in the decision paper both groups put to the SDHB board.

The board supported that decision and greenlit the plan for Wanaka to have a primary birthing facility and the shift to Dunstan Hospital.

The decision paper said there was an important caveat, which was the two facility model could be financially sustainable only if the SDHB and local lead maternity care (LMC) midwives potentially worked with a local trust or nongovernmental organisation to jointly develop and implement a sustainable model of care.

SDHB primary and population health general manager Mary Cleary Lyons told the board that while the future of maternity services in the Central Otago and Wanaka region had been decided as option 4, the board might need to fall back to a one-centre option if agreement could not be reached about staffing.

That still left Charlotte Jean out in the cold.

Ms Cleary Lyons said the decision not to include Charlotte Jean in its services schedule mix was hard, but the facility was difficult for emergency services — especially rescue helicopters — to reach, and it was felt new, purpose-built facilities were the best ‘‘future-proof’’ option.

Wanaka woman Kristi James, who made headlines in June last year when she gave birth in her midwife’s office, was ecstatic Wanaka would have a primary facility.

‘‘That is amazing, awesome news . . . that sounds like a whole lot of hard work has paid off, to a certain degree.’’

Ms James and other Wanaka women formed the lobby group Save Our Wanaka Midwives, which has led a vocal campaign to improve birthing facilities in the town.

‘‘Doing the groundwork to actually get this over the line is going to be the interesting part.’’

The SDHB’s review of maternity services has been long-winded and many communities have been vocal about the possible loss of their birthing facilities, or their need for expanded services.

Wanaka midwife Deborah Harvey was cautiously optimistic and said while the SDHB had chosen an option which would make many of her clients happy, the board still had to talk to lead maternity carer (LMC) midwives about how the facilities would be staffed.

‘‘There is an onus on LMC midwives to staff the unit and that hasn’t been discussed with LMC midwives yet, so there is still a bit of confusion about what this means for midwives . . .there is still a big piece of option 4 that needs to be nutted out.’’

She was nervous the staffing caveat could derail the plan.