Birth statistics in Waikato 'alarming'

Two Waikato families, whose children either died or were severely disabled during botched births, say recommendations in a new report are not enough to prevent more deaths of mothers and babies.

Nearly 100 newborn babies who died in 2009 could potentially have been saved, according to the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee report out yesterday.

One of those babies, Adam Barlow, died from a lack of oxygen during a prolonged and "catastrophic" labour in which his mother Linda almost died.

Robert Barlow said his son's death is part of an "alarming" statistic – 98 babies or 14 per cent of all perinatal deaths in 2009 were potentially avoidable.

Mr Barlow has called for an independent national review of New Zealand's maternity system and wants higher standards for new graduates who at present can go directly into self-employment without experience or supervision from senior midwives.

"They can go straight into practice, are self-employed, get paid the same as an experienced midwife and have the same level of autonomy, but experience is everything really."

A mentoring scheme is not compulsory and, even if it were, Mr Barlow said, would not necessarily be strong enough to prevent what happened to his wife and son in October 2009 from recurring.

Support for new graduates was inadequate, he said. "They haven't got any clinical supervision. . . . you've got two lives at risk and if something goes wrong, it goes wrong quite quickly."

To coincide with the report, the Government launched a quality and safety programme for maternity services. It includes the start of a national database for all pregnancies and births, something the committee has been advocating for some years.

But Jenn Hooper, whose six-year-old daughter Charley has severe cerebral palsy after two midwives incorrectly resuscitated her at birth, is continuing her call for an independent perinatal database.

"[Theirs] is only going to cover information on DHB [district health board] births. It still doesn't cover home births, and a lot of the other facilities. And no-one's actually said what data they're going to be collecting."

Mrs Hooper queried whether the "maternity datamart", which begins this weekend, would be useful, comparable data. She said an independent perinatal database recording every single birth and not just those in hospitals, was the only way to get "vital" information needed to improve the maternity system.

Neonatal and stillborn death rates between 2006 and 2009 were similar to those of Australia and the UK. But Mrs Hooper noted that in 2007 New Zealand bettered only Turkey and Mexico for its maternal mortality rate, ranking 32nd of 34 OECD countries.


Establishing a national working group to establish the best way of providing maternity services to young mothers; Improving recognition of women at increased risk of having their baby die or of dying themselves; Assessing the mental health of pregnant women when they first see a midwife or doctor; Regular training in managing obstetric emergencies for all health workers involved in caring for pregnant women.

Waikato Times