Birthing unit ‘review’ prompts protest
ANGRY parents and expectant mothers will rally out the front of the Murwillumbah Hospital on Wednesday, to fight against yesterday's sudden closure of the baby delivery ward.
After initially stating that the unit would re-open, the local health department now says a review of the service will take place.
About 10 expectant mothers a month from the Uki, Crystal Creek and Palm Vale areas will now have to travel to the Tweed Hospital to give birth.
Dozens of mums-to-be, some just days away from their delivery date, were shocked to learn the news through social media late this week.
The department blamed the closure on a failed six-month-long recruitment bid for a doctor specialising in neonatal resuscitation, stating that no local GPs "were interested in being skilled up to participate" on the low-risk labour ward.
A spokesperson for the Northern NSW Local Health District initially advised that the unit would re-open once a doctor was recruited.
But in a later written statement, the department said there would be a review of the unit, undertaken before further recruitment efforts.
No date for the start or completion of this review was provided.
Maternity Choices president Leah Nethercote said the reason given for the closure was completely inadequate.
The national advocacy group for maternity services has joined the local campaign for the suite to be re-opened.
"I find it difficult to believe that the health district did not have the resources to find this doctor. This is how birthing suites get shut down," Ms Nethercote said.
"A Review of Service is standard. I don't know of a maternity unit that's had to shut down indefinitely while a review is taking place.
"There are mothers, just weeks away from giving birth, that planned to have their babies in their home town, and now they have no plan.
"For some it will mean a delivery on the side of a road."
Although the health department said expectant mothers had been advised, many, like Palm Vale's Sarah Weber, whose baby is due in nine weeks, had no idea until late this week.
"I found out on Facebook on Thursday, from someone that doesn't live in the area," she said.
Some parents fear the additional 35-minute drive to Tweed Hospital could mean giving birth on the side of the road.
"If my birth was at the Tweed I would have had my baby in the car," Sandi Brown, of Uki, said of her 45-minute labour at Murwillumbah Hospital five months ago.
Others are now planning homebirths.
"It's either homebirth or the highway for me," Murwillumbah's Michelle Seamer said of her fourth baby, due in nine weeks.
"I have silent, quick births. There's no way I'm going to make it to the Tweed," she said.
Bray Park mother Rachel Bryant has launched a petition against the permanent or interim closure of the ward and labelled the health department's explanation for its closure as a "smokescreen".
She believes cuts to other clinical services could follow.
"I posted the petition (Wednesday) lunchtime, and in less than 24 hours it had 1300 signatures," Mrs Bryant said.
"What we have achieved in a very short amount of time shows just how much the community is against this."
Her fears were echoed by Richmond MP Justine Elliot who said funding for the North Coast was drying up to "prop up problems in Sydney".
"I'm worried that if this downgrading process continues, it will reach the point where the hospital is closed," Mrs Elliot said.
But Lismore State MP Thomas George said the decision was made for the "safety of mothers and their babies".
Mr George welcomed the review and also said he hoped "a suitable specialist is appointed at Murwill-umbah Hospital soon."
The local health district denied more services would be cut.
"To the contrary, a paediatric ambulatory care service commenced in December 2014, with the expansion of paediatric clinics (and) the Tweed Byron Health Service Group welcomed a new paediatrician," a spokesperson said.
The protest rally will be staged at 10am at the front of the hospital on Wednesday.
A petition to Stop the Suspension and or closure of Murwillumbah District Labour and Birthing Suite can be found at GoPetition.com