Maternity plan sparks concern

Bithing units
Bithing units

A push to encourage women to give birth away from Christchurch Women's Hospital restricts choice and could result in tragedy, maternity advocates say.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) plans to build a central-city health hub, including a primary birthing unit where women give birth naturally, on the old women's hospital site in Colombo St.

Board project manager for the maternity services vision Alison Young said more primary capacity was needed to ease pressure on Christchurch Women's Hospital (CWH), where most Canterbury mothers choose to have their babies.

"Relocating services for women and babies where birth is predicted to be at low risk of complications means that specialist staff at CWH can focus on the care and management for women and babies where antenatal, labour and birth and postnatal care is expected to be more complex," she said.

Research had found that women did not think St George's Hospital was close enough to CWH.

Action to Improve Maternity (AIM) founder Jenn Hooper said the "idea makes no sense at all".

"They talk about how it's about promoting what women want and listening to their feedback, but more than 90 per cent of all New Zealand women choose to give birth in hospitals," she said.

Health Ministry figures this year showed Canterbury women have the lowest number of spontaneous (non-instrumental, not obstetrically assisted) births.

No district health board should be "pressuring women to birth in primary units", Hooper said.

"When something goes wrong you're told that you're only a few minutes away from hospital, but that's not true. It can take a long time – too long – to go from establishing there is a problem, making the first phone call and getting that woman to hospital."

She said that while the proposed Colombo St unit was closer to the hospital than Canterbury's other primary units, such as Burwood and Lincoln, even a 10-minute drive could be too much.

"You try having a plastic bag on your head and being starved of oxygen for 10 minutes."

Primary birthing units around the country had been closing because "they have struggled to reach their quota of women birthing at them".

"If it is about what women want, then the [CDHB] should build a primary unit opposite Christchurch Women's Hospital," she said.

Hooper, whose daughter Charley, 6, was left severely brain-damaged after birthing complications, said midwives were not trained to deal with complications.

"In my experience, they didn't know what to do when something went wrong, and then when I had a massive bleed, it took them ages to even notice and ... well, it could have killed me," she said.

Christchurch GP Lynda Exton, author of The Baby Business: What's happened to maternity care in New Zealand?, agreed with building more maternity capacity, but said there had not been enough consultation.

"There's no evidence that the establishment of a primary birthing unit so far away from CWH will relieve any pressure on the labour ward at the hospital."

She said women should be able to choose where they give birth.

The Press