- This story has been updated since it was published on January 23. Read the full update here: Hospital moves to reassure pregnant women they can still birth in unit
Expectant mothers in Gunnedah and surrounds could be forced to travel to Tamworth to give birth after more permanent maternity services moved from town.
The Leader can reveal expectant mothers have been told one of the professionals required to be present during births will be unavailable in Gunnedah later this year, as he prepares to leave town, meaning mothers could be unable to deliver their babies at the hospital.
The diversion of deliveries is expected to add further strain on the Tamworth hospital which has seen numbers rise after the COVID pandemic.
One of the hospital's permanent GP anaesthetists has signalled he is leaving meaning one less specialist is on hand to safely deliver babies, which could see mothers required to travel to Tamworth to birth.
The Leader contacted Dr Robert Parsons - one of the leading obstetricians and long-standing doctors who delivers at the hospital - but on Monday he declined to comment on the issue and referred all questions to the nursing unit manager at Gunnedah hospital.
On Monday, Hunter New England Health (HNEH) was contacted for comment but did not respond before deadline. It's understood the hospital has access to visiting medical officers for GPs at the hospital with no plans to downgrade services.
But the VMO's would need to be sourced from other hospitals or districts and rostered on to cover the gaps.
Gunnedah's PRAMS group - Gunnedah Paediatric and Maternity Support - had not been told of the staffing development but said the news "was obviously concerning for our community".
"Our focus is making sure that we have good services here in Gunnedah," spokesperson Rebecca Ryan said.
"It would be a concern to us, a community our size, to not have maternity services available."
Gunnedah - which often has mothers birth from not only the town but also Mullaley, Tambar Springs, Boggabri and Coonabarabran - sees about 160 babies born every year, according to HNEH.
Between July and September last year, 31 babies were born at Gunnedah hospital, according to the latest Bureau of Health Information (BHI) data.
In the same reporting period, 256 babies were born in Tamworth's birthing unit, which is the largest maternity wing for the New England North West.
Tamworth hospital often has mothers birth in Tamworth from the Gunnedah area, or even Narrabri and Moree, when services aren't available in the smaller hospitals, or patients are considered high-risk.
In the April to June period last year, 14 less babies were born at Gunnedah hospital in comparison to the same time in 2021, with 14 births, but Tamworth saw 306 births - a rise of 16 babies on the 2021 numbers.
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