Home' Be : Be Issue 12 Contents Maternity matters
In Central Queensland towns like Emerald and Biloela,
maternity services are currently running under the steam
of locums. However, four years ago when Sophie Burrows
was pregnant with her first child, there wasn’t a doctor
nearby to help her. The closest hospital to her Rolleston
property was Springsure, 100 kilometres away, and then
Emerald, another 100 kilometres further down the road.
“Neither of those hospitals were delivering at the time,
so for me the closest option was Rockhampton. ” That
meant driving four hours to town for check-ups, before
eventually staying there for several weeks in the lead up
to the birth.
“We had a thing called ‘share care’ where one
appointment I would see my GP in Springsure and the
next I would see my obstetrician in Rocky.
“I ended up having to come to town three weeks before
my labour and just wait for it all to happen. I stayed with
my sister, but some people are not so lucky and paying for
hotels can get very expensive.”
Sophie is a very positive woman and not one to whinge;
but even she concedes it was difficult. “It was hard for
Rohan, my husband, because he was still trying to run
the property, but also wanting to be close by.
“If you are overdue or there are complications after
birth you could end up being away from home for more
than a month.
“A lot of country women get induced because they don’t
want to wait so long, or book in to have a caesarean to
make it more convenient. That’s a bit of a sad thing – to
have to fit a birth into a schedule.”
Slow to act
So what is being done to fix the situation? Well, the
answer is a lot - but it’s just not happening fast. Over
the past five years there have been both state and federal
reviews into maternity services. The federal review led to
new laws to strengthen the role of midwives.
Since last November, midwives have been able to
provide taxpayer-funded maternity care (through
Medicare) in hospitals, as long as they have collaborative
agreements in place with doctors. But seven months
down the track only 24 of Queensland’s 6500 midwives
have signed up.
“We are in a situation where there is amazing
opportunity for services in rural and regional areas to
significantly expand, for women to be able to birth closer
to home. However we are not at the point yet where
we are seeing that actually happen,” s ays President of
Midwives Australia Liz Wilkes.
The reasons why are a complicated mix of bureaucratic
bungling and hospital politics. Part of the problem is that
while midwives are technically permitted to deliver a baby
in a hospital, state-level laws do not provide them with
visiting access to those hospitals.
“ The whole point of these reforms was to provide a
continuum of care, and if you can’t be at the birth, then
you are only doing half your job, or even less than that,”
However, in good news for bush mums, Queensland
Health has just become the first state authority in
Australia to act. In July, it granted visiting access to
a private midwifery practise in Toowoomba in a pilot
program that - if successful - will be rolled out across the
Access aside, the other stumbling block is hospital
politics. Midwives say finding a doctor willing to sign a
collaborative agreement to allow them to work is almost
“ These are very, very, very tricky to obtain,” says
Wilkes. “It is particularly hard in rural and regional
areas because of the small number of obstetricians or GP
“The great shame of it all is that rural and regional
areas are the exact market that these reforms were aimed
Attracting and retaining midwives to the bush is also
a tricky business. That’s why CQUniversity’s midwifery
program is encouraging rural areas to “grow their own”,
as lecturer Anne Eaton explains.
“If a nurse is already in a rural area because they are
married to a local farmer, then the reality is they are
likely to stay in that area. We call that ‘growing your
own’, and we encourage those girls to train in their local
The University has had great success placing local
midwives in remote hospitals because of its successful
distance education program; three have just qualified
from Charleville and Proserpine and two in Mt Isa and
Rural doctor shortage
However in even shorter supply than rural midwives are
rural doctors. “What we are seeing is our more senior
rural doctors approaching retirement age, and what we
are yet to see is a sustainable number of younger rural
practitioners to replace them,” s ays Dr Dan Halliday.
Halliday works in Stanthorpe and is the Past President of
the Rural Doctors Association of Queensland.
“iF yOu aRe OVeRDue
OR THeRe aRe
BiRTH yOu COuLD eND
uP BeiNg away FROM
HOMe FOR MORe THaN
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