30 March 2012:
The New Zealand Nurses Organisation (NZNO) is concerned that a proposal to shut down specialist maternity services in Whanganui and move them to Palmerston North will be a disaster for women, babies and their whanau who live in the area. The proposal also plans to move elective gynaecology services from Palmerston North to Whanganui.
Whanganui Hospital’s maternity services currently cater to a population of around 65 000 people. Over 800 women a year use the services every year.
NZNO professional nursing advisor Cathy Gilmore says, “The risks for mothers and babies are very worrying. Although the proposal suggests that a “basic” primary maternity service remain in Whanganui it does not address situations where women need urgent medical care during their labour. There are skilled midwives in Whanganui who can manage this type of situation but that is no use if they don’t have the right technology and equipment at the hospital. The time it takes to transport a patient to Palmerston North will mean the difference between life and death in some situations.”
“This proposal to “regionalise” health services for women is short-sighted. It would disproportionately affect Maori, rural families and those on low incomes, particularly from the Whanganui region. One has to wonder whether the simpler solution would be to have all the medical staff work across both sites,” Gilmore says.
NZNO organiser Donna Ryan is worried about the impact on nursing and midwifery staff in both regions if specialist maternity services are moved, “One issue is that Palmerston North hospital has no extra birthing rooms and only three extra ante-natal beds planned if the changes go ahead. Staff will be overworked and under-resourced. It is hard to see how the proposed changes will benefit the people of either area.”
“Any city with a population of 65 000 needs specialist maternity and gynaecology services. It is imperative that women can access the health services they need where and when they need them,” Ryan says.