Mum fights good fight over birthing bungles

17:00, Sep 25 2009

A Hamilton mother whose daughter is severely disabled after midwives botched her resuscitation at birth has taken her fight for an independent inquiry into the maternity sector to Parliament's health select committee.

Jenn Hooper's four-year-old daughter Charley has severe cerebral palsy and spastic tetraplegia, and up to 200 seizures a day. Two midwives struggled for an hour to correctly intubate Charley when she did not start breathing after being delivered.

Last week Mrs Hooper, 38, told politicians her harrowing story and those of other women whose children either died or were disabled during childbirth, in a bid to have the system changed. Her 121-page submission, on behalf of the group The Good Fight, backed up a petition the women delivered to Parliament in June.

It called for the independent review, a database which counts the deaths, disabilities and near misses in childbirth, a review of the training and supervision of lead maternity carers (LMCs), and the creation of a crisis team to support families whose babies die or are disabled during childbirth.

"All we're after is ensuring healthy, safe, live mothers and babies," Mrs Hooper said.

Following major maternity reforms between 1990 and 1996, most New Zealand mothers-to-be now choose a midwife who becomes their LMC until they give birth.

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Though GPs remain involved in maternity care, providing about 70 per cent of pregnancy care in the first trimester, those specially trained in obstetrics have slowly reduced to the point where in 2006 only 54 remained in practice nationwide. By comparison, in the mid-90s Hamilton alone had 35.

"It's supposed to be a matter of choice. We've actually had our choices slashed," Mrs Hooper said.

The Good Fight wants bonuses and incentives paid to LMCs who book their client at a private birthing facility or non-tertiary hospital stopped, including a $60 bonus for midwives whose clients do not need to be admitted to hospital.

Mrs Hooper was also concerned with the training required to become an independent midwife, and that midwives no longer had to first be a nurse.

In 1990, at the start of the maternity reforms, New Zealand ranked 20th in the OECD for its infant mortality rate, counting babies who die in the first year of life. By 2002 it had dropped to 24th out of the 30 developed countries.

At the same time New Zealand's perinatal mortality rate babies who die between 20 weeks gestation and 28 days old was around 700 babies per 65,000 births annually and it was "gradually worsening", according to Mrs Hooper. "That's two jumbo jets of newborns and no-one knows why. They don't count or categorise why they die so they're not learning from these deaths."

When the group delivered the 1500-signature petition to Parliament, Health Minister Tony Ryall said several matters they raised were already being worked on. Government initiatives in the 2008-2012 maternity action plan included longer postnatal stays, three-way visits for at-risk women with their LMC and GP, refresher obstetrics training for GPs and rural midwifery recruitment.

Waikato Times