State finally steps up on bush birthing crisis


HEALTH bosses have been ordered to work out how to reopen bush maternity wards across Queensland, in a major win for mothers.

Health Minister Steven Miles says mums will finally be heard in far-reaching reforms brought on after The Sunday Mail highlighted the fallout in parts of regional Queensland where health bureaucrats had closed or mothballed maternity sections.

Mr Miles has today put an end to decades of closures that have seen 40 birthing units scrapped and the number of babies born beside country roads soar.

Ahead of the Rural Maternity Taskforce Summit in Cairns, Mr Miles said health service planning has been too focused on clinical risk.

He says the future will put emphasis on mothers' preferences to deliver close to home. Mr Miles set up the taskforce following The Sunday Mail's first report that almost four times more babies were dying in areas where maternity units had closed compared to rural areas with obstetrics.

This data was exclusively crunched by concerned doctors on the ground.

The report also revealed that babies in remote areas were 65 per cent more likely to die than those born in cities.

Mr Miles said he would draw a line under further reductions in services by requiring hospital services to secure special ministerial approval for planned changes.

"We will continue to task health boards with determining what services are delivered where but given the level of community interest, I think it's appropriate I or whoever is minister can say no," he said.

"I think the need for ministerial approval will ensure health services do everything they can to keep vital rural and remote health services open."

Theodore locals held a protest rally over the closure of the local birthing unit.
Theodore locals held a protest rally over the closure of the local birthing unit.

The Rural Maternity Taskforce report highlights that health services had not properly considered effects on mothers in closing units.

Births before arrival in Kingaroy have hit 58 per 1000 births for women travelling 1-2 hours and Herberton hit 63 per 1000. Redland Islands records 53 per 1000 for those travelling 1-4 hours.

"The taskforce has listened to women and doctors and midwives from all over Queensland and found their concerns are valid, that health services were overly focused on clinical risks and not concerned enough about the effect travel has on expectant mothers and their families," Mr Miles said.

"The health and hospital services will look at maternity services in every Queensland town, across 110 rural and remote facilities and work out if there's a way to attract and retain staff, keep their skills current and upgrade the service; this must be completed in two years.

"This won't mean health services can open birthing services everywhere, they will still need to consider safety, staffing and demand but for the first time the preferences of mums to birth closer to home will be considered too."

Clermont mother Lauren Shannon spent almost $10,000 to have her two boys at Rockhampton Hospital, more than four hours drive away.

"It would be amazing if the health chiefs could help women birth closer to home," she said.

"That's what we want and I am glad they finally realise that."

Health Minister Steven Miles has delivered for rural maternity services after a dogged campaign by The Sunday Mail.
Health Minister Steven Miles has delivered for rural maternity services after a dogged campaign by The Sunday Mail.

What commitments have been made?

* More than 100 HHSs covering every rural town will work towards return of services

* No further downgrades or closures to be decided by HHSs

* Minister has final say on maternity decisions

* Director-General of Health to implement all recommendations of taskforce

* $500,000 to trial training, retention and experience of rural maternity clinicians

* Rotation of rural clinicians through bigger hospitals to make jobs more attractive

* Torres and Cape HHS will re-open birthing services at Weipa Hospital

* Mums' preferences to birth closer to home will be a priority