Wellington Hospital maternity ward cuts bad for mothers, say midwives
New mothers are being sent home early, as Wellington Hospital shuts down half its postnatal beds to save costs, midwives say.
A dozen Wellington midwives have said that long-running staff shortages have forced the hospital to close one of its two postnatal maternity wards during the Christmas break.
What was meant to be a temporary downgrade during the holiday had stretched out, without enough midwives to attend to the beds, they claim.
Some midwives have said new mothers are being crammed into rooms together and being sent home earlier to free up beds.
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"It's just really shocking to us," one Wellington midwife said. "The maternity ward is like an emergency department, you can't predict when a baby is going to be born.
"It's a dangerous situation."
But Capital & Coast District Health Board has denied maternity services are struggling, with plenty of room for mothers, and no rush to discharge them.
"There has been no change to the length of time mothers and their babies can stay post-delivery," Andrea McCance, director of nursing and midwifery, said.
She confirmed one maternity unit had been closed on Christmas Eve and remained shut, but this had resulted in only two fewer beds, with a bigger concentration in the remaining wards.
"The care for our women and babies hasn't changed, just the pod where it's delivered."
The hospital now had 10 single rooms and 16 double rooms, and had not reached full capacity since the change. Maternity beds were also available at Kenepuru Hospital and Kapiti Health Centre.
Suggestions that news mothers were being mixed with antenatal patients, including one woman who had had an abortion, had no basis, she said. "That just doesn't happen."
The DHB had fewer than five maternity vacancies, and it planned to recruit more midwives and midwife graduates in February.
But several midwives said there were now 12 fewer beds, and 12 fewer full-time midwives compared with a month ago.
"It's just diabolical. I think women in Wellington are getting a rum deal," one midwife said.
It is understood that a DHB statement in response to the midwives' claims to Stuff.co.nz was circulated among staff at the unit on Tuesday, and many midwives were not impressed.
One Wellington midwife said that, in her eight years working in Wellington, she had never heard of the hospital shutting a maternity ward. "It has caused a lot of stress for the staff there."
None of the midwives were willing to be named, fearing it could cost them their jobs.
But several said staff shortages and low morale had been an problem at Wellington Hospital's maternity services for years.
Documents obtained by Stuff show the New Zealand Nurses Organisation has been flagging an overstretched maternity service in Wellington since at least 2014, claiming "midwives were exhausted and morale is so low".
A June 2014 letter from the hospital's midwives to management said, "our major concern is this is unsafe environment. On a daily basis we are grateful that there has been no major occurrences".
McCance said there had been problems previously, but these had since been resolved.
A reduction in capacity also made sense, because Wellington women simply were not having as many babies today, with births at the hospital dropping by about 250, or about 10 per cent, since 2011.