First-time mum the Duchess of Cambridge discharged herself from hospital just a day after giving birth to future king George Alexander Louis last week. But figures released by New Zealand's district health boards show a $40 million government plan to provide for longer post-natal stays has had mixed results.
Eight DHBs have actually seen shorter stays by new mums between 2009-10 and 2012-13, despite increasing their annual spend by around $1.3m.
Counties Manukau saw no change despite boosting the year's budget by just over $90,000. The figures, obtained by Labour health spokeswoman Annette King, show that of the 10 DHBs that registered an increase in stays, the average rise was just three hours and 24 minutes.
Health Minister Tony Ryall announced a maternity services package in the 2009 Budget that included $38.5m to provide for longer stays for new mothers in birthing facilities.
The extra time would allow them to establish breast feeding and gain confidence caring for their baby before going home.
"We have heard from too many new mothers who have felt pressured into going home before they are ready, and those who could benefit from extra support," he said at the time.
The extra government funding ran out last month and DHBs must now find the money from their own budgets.
King said the promise to provide "drive through" maternity care has "backfired". Increases were only "marginal,"' she argued.
"Where new mums have stayed longer, the extra time can be measured in minutes . . . certainly there are many who will feel quite comfortable with leaving hospital within the 48 hours all women are entitled to, but there are also others for whom those extra one or two days would be a godsend."
Maternity Services Consumer Council co-ordinator Lynda Williams said new mothers had welcomed the scheme and were "really annoyed" to learn once in hospital that there were strict criteria, such as difficult births, psychological problems and trouble breastfeeding, attached to extended stays.
While every mum is different, she said it takes at least two days to get breastfeeding established.
She believes with no extra money, DHBs "won't bother" allocating funding to increasing stays on maternity wards.
College of Midwives adviser Norma Campbell said many DHBs put the money into "quieter" primary community units where mums can spend extra time after giving birth - which may not show up in the figures. But some DHBs, such as Dunedin and Wellington, do not offer these "step down" facilities.
Each mother has different needs. "The important thing is that those women who want to stay longer should be able to," she said.
Ryall said his policy was "positively received" by health care professionals and there are no longer media reports of mothers and babies being kicked out of hospital immediately after giving birth.
"The extra investment of around $9m a year for longer post-natal stays was always intended for a smaller group of new mothers who felt they needed extra support.
"This smaller group may include women who've had caesarean sections, or who feel they need extra support to help establish breast feeding or just need to gain confidence in caring for their baby before returning home."
Other improvements to maternity care included the establishment of the national maternity monitoring group, and fully funding the Plunketline 24-hour telephone line, he said.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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