Former midwife doesn't buy into reasons behind community midwife program suspension

Former midwife Katy O’Neill lifted the lid on the shock hiatus of the Community Midwife Practice a fortnight ago and will now take a lead role in the soon-to-be formed community engagement committee.

Action stations: Former community midwife Katy O'Neill with action group chief Sam Wibberley and her daughters Willow and Essie. Photo: Peter Hardin 160517

Action stations: Former community midwife Katy O'Neill with action group chief Sam Wibberley and her daughters Willow and Essie. Photo: Peter Hardin 160517

Hunter New England Health recently closed the service indefinitely, citing staffing issues and safety as the reasons to no longer accept new mothers into the program.

However Mrs O’Neill, a former caseload midwife, isn’t convinced that those reasons “stack up”, in particular the fact that despite dwindling staff numbers the service did not advertise to fill vacancies until last weekend after a flood of public pressure.

“I still believe that there is an agenda that we are not being told, or that isn’t out there yet,” she said.

Following HNEH’s decision to suspend the service, which was not announced but rather uncovered, an outpouring of community concern resulted in the formation of an action group, which has already had positive outcomes including the job advertisements.

Mrs O’Neill is a leading member of the Friends of Tamworth Maternity Services group, which met with Hospital General Manager Catharine Death, HNEH CEO Michael DiRienzo, and Regional and Rural Health Services Director Susan Heyman.

“We have achieved some positive outcomes, but have not achieved our primary focus, which is to see the service continue,” Mrs O’Neill said.

“At the meeting Catharine Death said that it was unsafe to carry on with only three midwives, but that is the same amount that the service started with seven years ago. Was it unsafe then?”

“An impoverished CMP is still better than no CMP. Any continuity of care is better than none at all, as long as the mothers are informed that they may be handed over to core staff in some cases.

“If that happens they have lost nothing because without the CMP that is where they will be anyway.” 

On Thursday, the action group will again meet with Ms Death to outline the structure and terms of reference for the new community engagement committee, which will allow consumer and community engagement in any future decisions, as per federal guidelines.

The positives that came out of the meeting were an agreement that all mothers already on the CMP books will continue to receive continuity of care for the duration of their pregnancy, as well as advertising the roles required to get the service back operating and at capacity.

“It is great that the roles have been advertised, but if it was not a finance issue, which they claim it wasn’t, then I don’t understand the reason that they haven’t advertised the roles for at least the last six months,” Ms O’Neill said.

“I know that some core midwives have wanted to move across to CMP and haven’t been allowed.” 

Last year was the second year straight that the Tamworth Hospital maternity suite saw over 1000 babies born.

In a statement to The Leader, Ms Death was unable to confirm what the average hospital stay of a mother was post birth, either within the CMP program or the core program, other than to say that they are “in-line with state averages”.

She was also unable to confirm the exact number of midwives and other staff currently on the books in the maternity service, or how many more were needed for a full complement.

Nor would she comment on the reason why the CMP vacancies had not been advertised until this week.

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