Birth unit to increase options

Midwives prefer women to give birth at Christchurch Women's Hospital because of its central location, the New Zealand College of Midwives says.

The comments came in response to the Canterbury District Health Board's plan to build a primary maternity unit, where women give birth naturally, on the old Christchurch Women's Hospital site in Colombo St.

It is hoped the unit, staffed by midwives with doctors on call, will be open by 2016.

The plan was criticised this week by maternity advocates and expectant mothers who say the board is trying to ease pressure on Christchurch Women's, despite it being the place of choice for most Canterbury mothers to have their babies.

Christchurch obstetrician Colin Conaghan said a well-organised primary maternity unit "can be a good thing", but the best work was done when midwives and medical specialists worked together.

Midwives often preferred Christchurch Women's because there was help available in case something went wrong, he said.

Even low-risk pregnancies could develop complications, and transferring women to hospital could take up to an hour.

College of Midwives acting chief executive Norma Campbell yesterday said a central-city primary birthing unit would encourage mothers and midwives to be less reliant on Christchurch Women's.

"A central site would provide more options and some women would be very happy about that," she said.

Critics of the plan were "scaremongering and being unconstructive".

"A lot of discussion has to take place, but this is a very positive step ... and the [district health board] is going about it in the right way."

Canterbury has three other primary maternity units, at Burwood Hospital, Rangiora and Lincoln. Campbell said many women would not want to have their babies in primary units.

"It's not for everyone and this [plan] isn't saying that women cannot go to hospital. Of course they can. It's about choice," she said.

In a report to the board released this year, maternity vision project manager Alison Young said more primary capacity was needed to ease pressure on the hospital.

This week, board planning and funding manager Carolyn Gullery said increasing choice was the "most important point" of the plan.

The Press