IN THE midst of what was deemed a "maternity crisis" in the south-west just a year ago, young mothers feared the prospect of giving birth on the side of the road after a series of closures and staffing shortages plagued maternity services across the region.

A year on, Queensland's top medics are insisting conditions have improved, but some say there is still a long way to go.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Doctor Chris Perry said regional Queensland had improved in leaps and bounds in expanding and improving their maternity services, but there were still glaringly obvious gaps in some towns.

"Birthing units in Stanthorpe, Warwick, and Goondiwindi for instance, are seen by many as close to "gold standard" for maternity services," Dr Perry said.

"This is because they have strong culture and leadership in medicine, nursing, and midwifery, which leads to stability of the workforce and an attraction for graduates looking for a rural career.



"Yet, the communities of other towns such as Chinchilla, Dalby and, until recently, Kingaroy, have not had the certainty of women being able to give birth as close to home as possible.

"AMA Queensland remains concerned that these communities are constantly being told that inability to recruit Rural Generalist Doctors and highly skilled midwives is the problem.

"Rural mothers deserve confidence that their nearest birthing centre will not be put in bypass mode when they are in labour."

The Darling Downs has not been immune to severe issues in their hospitals in the last 12 months.

In August last year a "desperate" search began for midwives at the Chinchilla Hospital after six rounds of recruitment proved unsuccessful, and the ward remained closed indefinitely.

A parliamentary estimates hearing revealed in June last year Dalby Hospital came "close" to being put on bypass for a weekend.

Young mothers who lived in remote parts of the southwest were left fearing for their lives and the lives of their unborn children as they were faced with the prospects of having to travel as far as 160km to the nearest hospital to give birth.

A Darling Downs Health spokeswoman quelled fears that maternity services in the Darling Downs were anything other than high quality.

"A Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) model at Chinchilla Hospital was launched in December 2019, as part of a 'Western Cluster' maternity service providing support in an outreach capacity to mums in Miles, Tara and Taroom," she said.

"Under the MGP model, mums are provided with continuity of care through seeing a known midwife for their antenatal, birth and post-natal care.

"Mums receive individualised, woman-centred care including having their own midwife (supported by a partner midwife) throughout their pregnancy, on call for their labour and birth, and providing follow-up visits at home.

"The MGP model at Chinchilla has been well received by local mums and is a drawcard for midwives as it leads to greater job satisfaction."

The spokeswoman also said no hospitals had been placed on bypass or come close to going on bypass in the 12 months between August 2019 and August 2020.



"The Dalby Hospital is safely able to provide full care to expecting mums from antenatal through to birth and post-natal care," she said.

"Dalby Hospital also provides full care to mums from Chinchilla, Tara and surrounding areas. To further support our mums from rural areas, we have a two-bedroom, fully furnished unit for expecting women travelling to Dalby for the birth of their baby."

The spokeswoman said new services had been introduced all over the region, including opening a new Child and Family Health Community Centre in Toowoomba offering antenatal care and child health services, partnering with the QuMid project to provide extra clinical support and advice for rural maternity services, and enhancing lactation services to better support breastfeeding.

Dr Perry said new services aren't the only answer to the problems that have hit the region of late.

"It is up to the Minister and the executive team in Queensland Health to install leadership that will accomplish these goals," he said.

"Where there are culture issues in these hospitals, these must be addressed appropriately before blaming "inability to recruit" as a reason for a birthing service to struggle."

Originally published as ’They deserve better’: Calls for boosts to maternity wards

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