Homebirths hit by insurance law

Audrea and Jakub Juszczak, of Lismore, with their week-old baby Annikka and their son Jarvis, 22 months.
Audrea and Jakub Juszczak, of Lismore, with their week-old baby Annikka and their son Jarvis, 22 months. Jacklyn Wagner

NORTH COAST midwives who attend homebirths could soon be out of a job after a Senate committee yesterday recommended all homebirth midwives be insured.

Midwives warn this would shut them down because no insurance company in Australia will cover homebirths.

Lismore midwife Audrea Juszczak, who gave birth to her second child on August 8 at home, says the health of women and newborns could be jeopardised if the Federal Government adopts yesterday's recommendations from the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs.

Ms Juszczak said women intent on having their babies at home would no longer be able to access a registered midwife and would instead have to rely on unqualified help or 'go it alone'.

“I believe that in most circumstances homebirth is safe, but there are circumstances where intervention is necessary and someone who is not skilled may not pick up on those instances,” Ms Juszczak said.

“So potentially, in those few cases, it will be more dangerous for those women and those babies.”

With the Government also considering $30,000 fines for uninsured midwives who helped with homebirths, Mrs Juszczak said she would stop delivering babies at home if insurance for midwives became compulsory.

Vicki McAllister, of the Northern Rivers Maternity Action Group, said insurance companies stopped insuring homebirth midwives in 2001.

“There was a $12 million payout against a Melbourne obstetrician and that led to a general blow-out for insurance covering births,” she said.

“The pool of independent midwives was so small that it wasn't financially viable for insurance companies to hold a policy for them.”

Ms McAllister said women opting for home births were told midwives were uninsured and sometimes were asked to sign a disclaimer.

“But even if the midwife can't gain insurance, she is still registered (with the NSW Nurses and Midwives Board) so you know that the woman has a particular level of expertise and experience,” she said. “The impact of this is that women will no longer be able to access a registered midwife for a homebirth, so basically it opens up the door to unsafe practice for women in homebirths.”

Ms McAllister said some registered midwives might choose to become unregistered and continue delivering babies, but she was frightened unqualified women would begin offering to oversee homebirths

“How will you know that the person coming to you is actually trained? This might create a situation where anyone could claim to be a homebirth midwife,” she said. “There will be no way of regulating the standard of care provided by midwives.”

She said it would also discourage some women from having homebirths.

“This will shut down choice because a lot of midwives won't want to practice unregistered,” she said

Byron midwife Sue Cookson, who has delivered more than 400 babies at home in 27 years, said she did not oppose compulsory insurance for midwives, but she is calling on the Federal Government to underwrite their insurance.

“I have faith that the issue will be dealt with. There are a lot of women working very hard to change this,” she said.

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