Minister backs cuts to maternity units
Health Minister Tony Ryall has backed the Waikato District Health Board's decision to cut funding to the Morrinsville and Te Awamutu maternity units.
Declining birth rates at the two rural birthing centres have been used as justification for their closure.
In a visit to Te Kuiti Hospital, Ryall was told about several rural health projects underway in the Waikato and the desperate need to provide "health [services] closer to home" - an idea he later agreed with.
Ryall opened his visit with an apology to Te Kuiti staff.
"I am a little bit embarrassed because I have been in health for almost nine years, but this is my first visit to this hospital."
Despite claiming to feel "inspired" by several of Te Kuiti's health initiatives, Ryall continued to reaffirm the health's boards decision to potentially save $1.7 million if the rural birthing centres were closed.
"This decision is a reflection of the changing desires from a lot of parents - in Morrinsville and Te Awamutu we are seeing three births a fortnight, but those services have to be maintained 24/7." Ryall said the Waikato DHB was using initiative to help find a more sustainable community service.
"It will be fascinating to see what communities come up with. We are keen to provide mothers with as many options as possible," he said.
The services are currently under consultation with community organisations.
Last week David Cunliffe described the Waikato DHB's decision to close its Matariki and Rhoda Read centres as "whacky accounting".
Both services could be centralised to Hamilton following the review's completion, meaning expectant mothers living further afield from the two towns could face an extra 30-minute journey to Hamilton to have their babies.
Midwives and mothers told the board last year they feared women in labour might not be able to complete the journey from their rural homes to Hamilton before their babies arrived.
Smaller maternity centres across the country have struggled after changes to the way birthing professionals and services are funded. The largest portion of funding now goes to the facility and the professional who delivers a child, while smaller portions are streamed during pregnancy and after birth.
The changes have hit small maternity units the hardest, as often mothers with complications are immediately sent to base hospitals for the remainder of their labour. Despite this move, Ryall said the Ministry of Health was pushing for health services to be closer to home.
While at Taumarunui Hospital yesterday, Ryall announced there will be an additional 34 medical places for students next year at our two medical schools, including more positions earmarked for rural students.