Midwife admits drug addiction

A midwife who confessed to having a prescription drug addiction is being investigated for stealing medication from Wairarapa Hospital's maternity unit.

The community-based midwife reported herself to the Midwifery Council, council registrar Sharron Cole said. She had also voluntarily relinquished her practising certificate.

Ms Cole would not say what drugs the woman was allegedly stealing or using.

She had referred herself to the council because "she had sufficient problems around her health that she needed to be referred".

She had admitted stealing the drugs for at least the past year.

There had been no complaints from the woman's clients or Wairarapa District Health Board that the woman had worked while impaired or had endangered mothers or babies.

An "extraordinarily high" percentage of the population were on prescription drugs for anxiety and depression and were able to function normally in their jobs, Ms Cole said.

Wairarapa has 21 midwives employed by the DHB and 10 community-based midwives, who are paid by the Health Ministry.

The Midwifery Council monitors 3000 certified midwives – including six men – of the 14,000 registered midwives nationally.

There was an average of five midwives before the council's health committee "at any one time" with physical and mental health or drug and alcohol concerns, Ms Cole said.

However, prescription drug addiction was not widespread within the profession.

"It's not a big problem – not compared to doctors. They have a greater problem than we do."

The council's health committee will wait for the woman to respond to it to assess the need for treatment and rehabilitation. It was up to the midwife to decide whether she was well enough to resume practising.

If the woman wanted to re-enter the profession, the health committee would commission specialist reports and do physical and psychological testing to determine if she was safe to go back into the community, Ms Cole said.

"It's very exhaustive and it needs to be. We need to support the midwife but, more importantly, we must be assured for the safety of the public. It's unfortunate and we wish it didn't happen, but midwives are human like the rest of us."

Wairarapa DHB director of nursing and midwifery Helen Pocknall confirmed the matter had been referred to police but said there had been no risk to women or the board's services.

The Dominion Post