Mums-to-be let down

Narrandera District Hospital is unable to offer birthing services to local mothers-to-be – the town has two obstetric GPs but there are no midwives.

Mothers-to-be in Narrandera face the prospect of an anxious drive to Wagga with no births at all (including elective caesareans) being undertaken at the Narrandera Hospital.

Leeton is in a similar situation while waiting for the introduction of a midwifery led model of care to allow ‘low risk’ births. The irony of the situation is that while Narrandera has two obstetric GPs there are no midwives, Leeton is the reverse with midwives and no obstetric GPs. Previously Narrandera mothers-to-be had the option of nearby Leeton but this is no longer possible with Leeton still waiting on the introduction of its midwiferyled model of care.

Murrumbidgee Local Health District Executive Director Medical Services Dr Wendy Cox’s response to an Argus enquiry on Tuesday about birthing services at Narrandera Hospital was that “there were no plans at present to change birthing services at Narrandera Hospital” and that “birthing services at the hospital are continuing as usual, including low-risk elective caesareans.”

However, this was contrary to advice received from a local informed source who said that there were no births at all at the hospital.

“Country communities are very hard done by with regard to maternity services which will in turn affect the future of retaining GPs and recruiting professionals,” the source said. “How are country towns meant to survive if we can’t have babies here and raise them as country kids? It’s just so frustrating.”

Leeton mothers-to-be are in a similar situation as they are forced to travel to Griffith. Wagga is a long way to go when a woman is in labour and likewise so is Leeton to Griffith and there are many risks associated with the practice.

Training of Leeton Hospital’s midwives is in progress and Leeton Mayor Paul Maytom, but a story in the Leeton Irrigator saw him question why it was taking so long. Five Leeton midwives are said to be currently completing their upskilling.

“Of course we do want them to be following due course and for the midwives to be getting this extra training,” he said. “However, in saying that, we were told it would be in place by the middle of the year and that has come and gone.”

Cr Maytom said the ideal alternative would be to attract a practising GP with obstetrician credentials to town, so that if a situation arose that person could be called on. MLHD has also placed a recruitment advertisement for a visiting medical officer (VMO) general practitioner obstetrician for Leeton on the NSW Health recruitment website. There are also advertisements for two GP/VMO proceduralists on the Rural Doctors Network recruitment site.

Cr Maytom said Council would help wherever possible with the recruitment process, including offering some sort of incentive to come to Leeton. Narrandera and Leeton hospitals are not the only ones with problems in regard to birthing facilities, with Temora joining the list after being told that there is no money for its obstetrics theatre, which will close at the end of the month. An MLHD spokeswoman said maternity services would continue to be offered at Temora Hospital for low risk pregnancies.

Shooters Fishers and Farmers Party MLC Robert Borsak this week called out the NSW Government for building their $4.5 billion surplus on the back of cuts to rural health services.

Temora hospital was told on August 14 that their obstetric theatre was closing on August 31.

“Doctors at Temora hospital were told by the Murrumbidgee Local Health District that there is no money in the budget for maintaining their obstetric theatre and that it will close at the end of the month,” Mr Borsak said. “This means that local
women will now have to travel to Cootamundra, Young or Wagga Wagga for caesarean section deliveries, despite having the capability in their own town. This is especially dangerous if roads are cut during a flood or bushfire.

“If fewer women are using the local services I’m concerned that this could be used as an argument to close other services.”

Local GP obstetrician Dr Rachel Christmas said that she was concerned about the impact this could have on health services in Temora.

“Unlike many towns in the Riverina, Temora has three GP obstetricians living here – two of whom perform caesarean sections. If this obstetric theatre is closed by the end of the month, I’m concerned that two of the obstetricians living in town may choose to seek work elsewhere to keep up their obstetric skills. This would also mean that Temora could lose two local GPs.”

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