St John of God Bunbury Hospital maternity closure will add to pressure on women travelling to give birth: ANF

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Hospital has lost its capacity for complex births.
Camera IconMargaret River Hospital has lost its capacity for complex births. Credit: Warren Hately

The shock end of maternity services at Bunbury’s St John of God Hospital has triggered a wave of concerns about the wider South West health sector.

As reported first by the Times, Margaret River Hospital has lost its capacity for complex births outside of the popular Midwifery Group Program, with expectant mothers now forced to travel to Busselton and Bunbury.

The Australian Nursing Federation told the Times its workforce was under the pump amid staff shortages Statewide which favoured midwives working in major centres.

State secretary Janet Reah said private services being off the cards in Bunbury was adding pressure to the sector and would see more women required to travel to give birth.

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“The stark reality is with the ongoing staff shortages, we are seeing a consolidation of the remaining midwifery staff to more major centres,” she said.

“This leaves rural women forced to travel further to get antenatal care, deliver their babies and endure isolation from friends and family during what should be a happy time.”

Brecken Health general manager Brenda Murrison, who operates clinics in Margaret River, said Busselton and Bunbury hospitals delivered excellent services but noted travel for women not admitted to the MGP was not ideal.

“Delivering close to home in a well-staffed hospital is the safest option for mum and baby,” she said.

“Unfortunately, with obstetrics, when things do go wrong, they go wrong quickly.

“Safety for mum and baby is always going to be at the forefront of everyone’s mind in these decisions.”

A local doctor who asked not to be named said medicos who called for the WA Country Health Service to reconsider relying on emergency department doctors to oversee MGP births at Margaret River Hospital were frustrated their pleas were ignored.

Greens health spokesperson Jordon Steele-John said Bunbury Regional Hospital was already struggling with response times and more pressure was not needed.

“This closure (at St John of God) only serves to add extra pressure that they simply will not be able to deal with,” he said.

Senator Steele-John said the end of support for complex births at Margaret River highlighted a lack of “adequate” funding for regional hospitals.

Ms Reah said agencies had to work harder to recruit and retain midwives in regional and remote areas.

“We actually have robust hospital infrastructure but it’s no use when beds are empty in the country due to a lack of staff and wards are overflowing at tertiary hospitals because they are getting even more patients travelling in from regional locations,” she said.

“We cannot operate smaller regional hospitals without the staff, and the risk to mothers and babies increases the further they need to travel.”

A long-awaited master plan to expand the Margaret River Hospital, supported by WA Country Health Service, was not funded in this month’s State Budget.

A WACHS spokesperson said recruitment was a Commonwealth issue, but it continued to seek a GP obstetrician for Margaret River amid a global healthcare shortage and had added a record number of newly qualified midwives and interns to regional WA during the past year.

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