A plan to bring about 400 out-of-town pregnant women a year to Palmerston North Hospital for care has been derailed after the Whanganui District Health Board decided the women shouldn't have to travel from one city to the other.
A raft of submissions spearheaded by midwives had criticised a proposal to transfer all mothers needing specialist obstetric care, including caesareans, epidurals and inductions, to a larger regional service to be built at Palmerston North.
Whanganui District Health Board members voted unanimously against that proposal yesterday.
The move had been welcomed by midwives who said it was in the best interest of women and their babies to keep maternity services local.
"At this stage, we are cautiously optimistic of finally achieving a positive outcome for the women of Whanganui and their families," said Norma Campbell, acting chief executive of the New Zealand College of Midwives.
"There is still much to be discussed but it is gratifying that the board appears to have listened to the concerns of the community, midwives and other health professionals who work alongside Whanganui women."
The New Zealand College of Midwives had opposed the move to transfer patients, saying it would affect about 400 women each year by forcing them to travel up to 70 kilometres for care.
Midwives said this would put pressure on Palmerston North birth units, arguing that women in labour needed family close by and that place of birth was important for iwi affiliations.
Maori women and their whanau make up 50 per cent of the population now using Whanganui Hospital's full maternity service.
The board had in the past had difficulty attracting two new obstetric-gynaecological specialists, but board chairwoman Kate Joblin said those positions had now been filled and she was looking forward to seeing its maternity services develop further.
"I'm delighted with the decision that the Whanganui health board has come to, it's very forward thinking," she said.
The board supported one of three options in the proposal, voting for a regional women's health service with secondary maternity and gynaecology services provided from both Whanganui and Palmerston North Hospitals, supported by two consultants on round-the-clock rosters provided by health board-employed doctors.
A MidCentral DHB spokesperson would not comment on the final decision as that board was still to consider its options at a meeting on Tuesday.
However, the board was likely to support the decision made by its Whanganui counterpart.
The three options considered by the health boards were either to relocate specialist services to Palmerston North Hospital, or choose from two options for retaining services at both Palmerston North and Whanganui Hospitals but with different methods of funding the required doctors.
More than 4000 submissions were received on the original proposal and more than 70 midwives marched through Palmerston North streets in protest against it in April.
Labour associate health spokesman Iain Lees-Galloway said the decision was good news for expectant mothers in Whanganui.
"It's a very positive outcome for the people of Whanganui and I hope that it's a situation that is more sustainable than what the maternity service in Whanganui has been in recent times," he said. "I congratulate the Whanganui and MidCentral DHBs for looking at all the options that were available."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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