Petitioner says DHB has 'ripped' out service

If the district health board goes ahead with plans to walk away from reopening Stratford's maternity unit then it will be abandoning the very people it is meant to care for, Jess Brocas says.

"We had a maternity service and now it is gone," Brocas said. "It's been ripped out from under us. Everyone is absolutely distraught at this." Brocas, who started an online petition shortly after the closure, has been calling for the DHB to run a birthing unit itself.

Stratford has been without a maternity facility since November, when the provider closed its doors after it was unable to maintain midwife staffing levels. It was the second independent provider to exit the service within a year.

This week the Taranaki District Health Board released its findings into an investigation of the future of Stratford's service. It recommended keeping the doors closed, saying there was no guarantee the service would be able to be sustained successfully, even if another provider was found.

The DHB has said if it took over it could jeopardise the sustainability of its other maternity services, which served about 95 per cent of Taranaki's mothers and their babies.

Each year between 60 to 80 babies are born at the Stratford maternity unit. This is between 4 and 5 per cent of the 1500 babies born in Taranaki each year.

However, Brocas said while some mothers may give birth in the Taranaki Base Hospital, many had their postpartum care at the Stratford unit, known by locals as Elizabeth R. She said she had heard many stories about how important a Stratford service was to rural mothers.

"People think the DHB just doesn't understand rural life, what it's like to get up every day and go and milk the cows, come home and do your jobs and then go out and milk the cows again. That doesn't stop for anything, not even if your wife has a baby," Brocas said.

"So for the men to have to drive to New Plymouth and back every day to support their wife, it's just exhausting."

She said the DHB's six recommendations of how to fix the issue were a farce and were basic things that should be happening anyway.

The recommendations included strengthening and maintaining reliable service at Taranaki Base and Hawera hospitals, supporting the rural midwifery workforce, exploring the potential for the development of a maternal and child health hub in Stratford and working with St John to ensure timely responses to maternity call-outs.

Taranaki DHB planning and funding manager Becky Jenkins said a comprehensive assessment of the options had been required because recent history proved providing the service had been extremely challenging.

The board will meet on Thursday at 2pm to decide on the future of Stratford's maternity unit.

 - Taranaki Daily News

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