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Andrew Dickens: DHB's are playing Russian Roulette with pregnant woman

Publish Date
Thursday, 13 June 2019, 12:18PM
DHB's need to change their approach to maternity care, writes Andrew Dickens. (Photo / Getty)

Yesterday in talkback I asked the question “What’s going on with our Maternity Services?

It seemed to me that there has been a rash of stories that suggest babies and Mums are being gambled with for the sake of meeting budgets.

The closure of the Lumsden Maternity Unit is one such story. Formerly a primary birthing unit with facilities and staff it’s been turned into what DHBs call a maternity hub. No staff and apparently no facilities either.

The baby born on the roadside in an ambulance was born there because the mid wife decided that the ambulance was better equipped than the maternity hub.  They go to the hub and found the lights off, the place was cold and there was not oxygen available for baby and Mum.  It was less a maternity hub and more an office owned by a DHB. 

Unsurprisingly, oxygen has now been re-installed in the hub. Who uninstalled is the question I’d ask. It all smacks of money.

Then there was the Wanaka baby born in a midwives office.  That made headlines and today the Southern DHB has decided to lease a better facility in Wanaka for birthing.  Pity it isn’t in the medical centre which is where the helipad is if you have to get Mum and Baby to Dunedin hospital. Maybe the rent’s less

While that was happening in rural Lumsden and Wanaka, there’s also issues in Christchurch where the hospital has no primary birthing unit for three years now and seems to have no plans for one any time soon. A primary birthing unit is a step down from a hospital and it’s for babies and mums who are deemed not to be at risk pregnancies and births. 

But if something goes wrong you need to get to a hospital quick or get a doctor to mum. That’s why 80 per cent of Canterbury mums are choosing to go to the hospital to give birth.  Now hospital births are for at risk pregnancies and have limited beds, and that’s why Canterbury mMums are regularly thrown out just hours after birth.

Then we hear that almost 90 per cent of maternity wards in New Zealand hospitals have no senior doctors or consultants on site at night or in the weekends. The revelations raise questions about patient safety in the event of traumatic or complex births that occur after-hours and require urgent specialist care.

And today we learn the total DHB deficit has jumped $40 million in the last month. The 20 DHBs have a deficit of $264 million overall, with only South Canterbury in the black. So under financial pressure, the DHBs are gambling with their rationing.

I think the DHBs are playing Russian roulette with babies and mums. It seems to me they’re underfunding the services assigned to babies that are not deemed to be at risk. Hoping that nothing goes wrong. Well, in the past fortnight, three births came close to going wrong because of funding decisions. 

There will be hell to pay when luck is not on the DHB’s side.

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