Waikato DHB's secrecy over maternity units slated

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013
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The Waikato District Health Board is keeping the fate of Morrinsville and Te Awamutu's maternity centres under wraps - but indications are they may soon be partially, if not fully, closed.

And many families who stand to be affected by the loss of the units might miss out on having their say, with a consultation period on the health board's plans for them scheduled over the summer holiday season, when a lot of residents are away from their homes.

Both the Matariki Birthing Unit in Te Awamutu and the Rhoda Read Birthing Unit in Morrinsville could be centralised to Hamilton after a review initiated by the board, meaning expectant mothers living further afield could face an extra 30-minute journey to Hamilton to have their babies.

The health board estimates cost savings of $1.29 million if the two facilities are closed. It is to debate the recommendations of the review at its next meeting on December 11.

The review considered three options: maintaining the status quo; a partial reduction in the services; or complete closure and consolidation to Hamilton.

However, the first choice seems unlikely, with the board calling the region's MPs to a special briefing on December 13 to advise them of the review's recommendations.

Health board communications director Mary Anne Gill said the discussion on the review on December 11 would take part in the public-excluded section of the meeting. She cited Section 9 of the Official Information Act 1982 - "to enable the Waikato DHB to carry on negotiations without prejudice or disadvantage". Copies of the feasibility study would not be made available before that meeting, she said.

Hamilton-based Labour list MP Sue Moroney said the fact she and her fellow MPs were being called to a briefing did not bode well for the units' retention.

"They would hardly do that if the recommendation of the review was to maintain the status quo, would they?"

Ms Moroney said she had called on the board to delay the public consultation period until February, to allow those who had gone out of the area on holidays a chance to have their say.

Secrecy over the maternity services review was not a good sign, she said. "All the way through there has been a real concern in those communities that the DHB are not being upfront about their desire to exit that service.

"It's been difficult to get information out of them . . . I hope its not the DHB's agenda to rush this through at a time of year when it is difficult for many in the community to have their say. It looks from where I'm standing like a really cynical move."

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Mrs Gill said that depending on the board decision, Waikato DHB would begin a consultation period with stakeholders, the communities and the media. The board would receive a final report, results of consultation and recommendations at its February 26 meeting.

She said births and postnatal stays in the two facilities had been declining in recent years. In the 2012/13 year 81 per cent of women from the Morrinsville/Te Aroha catchment and 85 per cent of women from the Te Awamutu catchment had bypassed them to have their babies in Hamilton.

The Christchurch-based New Zealand Institute of Community Health Care carried out the feasibility study for the health board in July.

Dr Chris Hendry, who headed the study team, has been a nurse and midwife in New Zealand for more than 30 years. Experienced midwives and health service advisers Laura Alieone and Margo Watson were the other members of the team.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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