Fears birthing unit closures will put mums-to-be at risk

STEVE EDWARDS AND MIKE MATHER
Last updated 13:08 04/02/2014

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A woman gave birth on the floor of the foyer of the Rhoda Read maternity unit in Morrinsville because she did not have time to make it to the birthing room.

Her infant's swift arrival last week is being hailed as a great example of why closing the unit will place other expectant mothers in rural areas near Hamilton in jeopardy.

A protest movement against the possible closure of maternity services in Morrinsville and Te Awamutu is gaining momentum. Piako Maternity Action Group has been formed to keep the birthing unit at Rhoda Read open and to reject the Waikato District Health Board's proposal of centralising maternity services to Hamilton.

A similar lobby group in Te Awamutu, led by Hazel Barnes, is also galvanising opposition to the potential closure of that town's Matariki maternity unit.

Retired midwife Ally Thomas, who initiated a petition opposing closure, is worried the incident at Rhoda Read last week may increase the risk of unsafe birth environments. "If the unit closes, mums like her will be birthing in the back of a car, trying to make the journey through to Hamilton . . . This is unsafe."

The health board commissioned a feasibility study on the units, which recommended both be closed and women from each area have their babies in Hamilton.

Statistics given by the health board showed the number of birth and post-natal stays in each unit had declined. It was also reported the annual cost of running both units is $1,281,459 ($665,802 for Rhoda Read and $615,657 for Matariki).

Action group spokeswoman Jillian O'Neill said the Morrinsville unit was a vital service for families wanting a birth close to home. "Rural New Zealand is being hammered. It is only going to get worse," she said. "As businesspeople, we shop locally to ensure our money stays in our towns. Having a significant investment like the DHB funds allocated to run Rhoda Read leave our district will have an impact. Once that money leaves, . . . [the health board] will not be reinvesting it on our area. Once it's gone, it's gone for good."

Sue Van Dam, of Morrinsville's Aroha Midwifery, said there was nothing better than local knowledge. "Many of our rural families live in isolated areas and can be tricky to find. We know these families because we live in their district too."

The health board is holding public meetings as part of the consultation process, the first being in Te Aroha tonight.

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- Waikato

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