If the people of Te Awamutu and Morrinsville and the communities that lie beyond them want adequate facilities where women can give birth, they may just have to provide them themselves.
That was the implication of a decision by the Waikato District Health Board yesterday to call for expressions of interest from those communities to provide their own birthing services.
That decision, made at yesterday's health board meeting, effectively means the board has washed its hands of running its own maternity units in the two towns.
Should a business or another organisation - such as the Waipa District Council or the Matamata-Piako District Council - step in to fill the gap, that would leave the health board with $332,335 which could be reinvested into "other primary maternity services in the district".
But should no organisations from the communities come forward to provide birthing services in either town, then the health board will simply move to a default position of closing the facilities and reinvesting the total money saved, which would be about $461,350.
This was the preference of planning and funding general manager Brett Paradine, who recommended it as the move the board should endorse.
While taking the expressions-of-interest option is a less absolute fate for the Matariki and Rhoda Read maternity units, it is a long way from the third option which was available to the board: Keeping the two facilities going and spending money on improving them. However, this was a choice not considered at any time by the assembled board members at yesterday's meeting.
Andrew Buckley described the maternity units decision as a "risk management situation".
"It's created a lot of discontent in the community," he said.
Fellow board member Clyde Wade noted that many opposed to the closure of the units had argued that if they were refurbished and made more attractive, more women would choose to give birth there rather than travelling the extra half hour or more to Hamilton.
"I think that's a heroic assumption. What would be the numbers you would need to make it viable? I would say a minimum of 50 per cent of births taking place there. It's unlikely we will get anywhere near that."
Martin Gallagher said giving others a chance to provide maternity facilities was a sensible move.
"We should give the community the option to evolve something that would meet our needs," he said. "If we had stacks of dough we would be far more innovative, but the fact is we haven't."
The board's deputy chairwoman Sally Christie said she was mindful that one of the two communities could come up with a viable proposal, leaving the other without maternity facilities.
"It's about clinical safety. If someone else can produce a birthing unit that we can't, then that's great."
Board chairman Bob Simcock asked Mr Paradine to report back to the next health board meeting in a month's time with details of how and by what time the community or business groups would need to provide the board with their proposals.
"We need to give the communities the option to see if they can come up with something that will work."
- Waikato Times