It was open season on the Waikato District Health Board and one of its hired consultants in Te Awamutu last night.
The women of the town and its surrounding rural areas were doing the shooting - and they were filling a board proposal to close Te Awamutu's maternity centre with plenty of holes.
The Matariki maternity unit and its counterpart in Morrinsville are being considered for closure by the board, after a review it commissioned into the viability of the units found they were financially unsustainable and around 80 per cent of mothers from each area were bypassing them to give birth in Waikato Hospital or two modern maternity centres in Hamilton instead.
However, the breadth and scope of that review was repeatedly criticised last night, as the participants at a public consultation meeting laid into its author for not giving more consideration to those most affected by the two facilities' potential closures - the mothers themselves.
Board chief operating officer Jan Adams started the meeting with what may have been an attempt to appease those present by pointing out that from 2011 to 2013 more than $24,000 had been spent on upgrades to Matariki.
However, an audience member quickly responded by saying that most of that expenditure covered the entire Matariki facility, which includes a continuing care facility for the elderly, and little had been devoted to the maternity unit, which is a smaller part of the campus.
Former nurse and health board member Helen Barnes fired a barrage of brickbats at the board.
"Let's not get sidetracked . . . with figures and facts that have got little to do with where we are now.
"Are you listening to us? Are you going to respect us?" Chris Hendry, from the Christchurch-based New Zealand Institute of Community Health Care and who was commissioned by the board to do the review, said it was underused and too costly. That was the bottom line.
"There is a skilled workforce sitting there waiting, and watching women drive past. People are becoming more used to travelling to the centre."
In response to questions raised over whether mothers living further afield from Hamilton, in Te Awamutu's surrounding districts, she said she believed "very few women [in labour] would be caught short" if the unit was closed.
"If they knew they had longer to travel, they would have left earlier," she later told those assembled - an assertion that was greeted with a ripple of laughter.
Otorohanga district councillor Robyn Klos was harsh in her criticism of the board.
"It offends me we are talking about cost here. Just one compromised mother or baby is one too many.
"You are expecting them to travel long distances in a hurry."
Perhaps in response to criticism of their non-attendance at a previous consultation meeting last week in Te Aroha, four of the board's elected representatives were at last night's meeting - Clyde Wade, Andrew Buckley, Pippa Mahood and Crystal Beavis.
- © Fairfax NZ News