Birthing unit plan prompts concern

19:16, Jul 05 2012

A leading obstetrician has expressed reservations about a plan for a new central-city primary birthing unit.

The Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) plans to build a primary birthing unit on the old women's hospital site in Colombo St, about 10 minutes' drive from Christchurch Women's Hospital.

Board planning and funding manager Carolyn Gullery said the unit would be staffed by midwives but there would be access to on-call obstetricians. More details on the unit would be available by the end of the year and it could be built by 2016, she said.

It is hoped the unit, where women give birth naturally, will help ease the pressure on CWH.

Dr Colin Conaghan, of Christchurch Obstetric Associates, said women and midwives preferred the births to be at CWH because "there was medical, specialist and paediatric support available".

"I think it works a lot better for everyone involved when midwives and obstetricians work together," he said.

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"I would be rather worried if the proposed primary unit was completely midwifery-run and I think mothers would be too."

He said a birthing facility for low-risk pregnancies was a good idea but needed to be built as part of CWH, where there is "immediate access to help".

"While this proposed facility might only be eight or 10 minutes away, it can take an hour or more to complete a transfer to hospital from the moment the midwife establishes there is a problem," he said.

Transfer times would "always cause concern for mothers".

"If a primary unit is well run and well organised they can be good, but I'm a little reluctant about it," he said.

Expectant mother Jess Tait said she could "not understand the logic" of the board's plan.

She said building a birthing unit that was "the same distance away from [CWH] as St George's Hospital" did not make sense.

"The primary units don't really have enough beds, but neither does the hospital, so if they're going to spend money on a new unit then it should be as close to the hospital as possible," she said.

The Press