Death fears as pregnant women denied examinations

WOMEN are going through pregnancy without a physical examination due to Queensland Health's switch to teleconference antenatal appointments amid COVID-19, leaving maternity experts afraid a baby or mother will die.

The anxious mums-to-be report that despite the use of technology, the system has forced them into feeling like cavewomen left to give birth without support and totally unprepared.

Many, particularly those with high-risk pregnancies, have hit more than 20 weeks of gestation without face-to-face obstetric appointments to check the foetus.

The expectant mums were up in arms this week when Queensland Health posted on Facebook about the importance of antenatal appointments, and stating hospitals were a safe place to go for check-ups throughout the pandemic.


The women said they were desperate to attend these appointments but they were not available, and some said they had no promise of future face-to-face appointments as their pregnancies headed into the third semester.

The president of the National Association of Specialist Obstetricians and Gynaecologists yesterday told The Sunday Mail the lack of clinical examinations was unacceptable, and these exams should not be replaced by telehealth.

"Complications can occur at any stage of pregnancy and delivery, and timely access to obstetricians is vital," said Associate Professor Gino Pecoraro.

The Maternity Consumer Network, a national body representing the rights of pregnant women, has issued a statement highlighting the "genuine fear" that someone will die through the telehealth process.

"We are concerned women who need face-to-face appointments aren't getting them, potentially putting them and their baby at risk," said the network's Alecia Staines.

"There is genuine fear that there will be a death. Women are really stressed about having all their care via the phone.

"White Ribbon Alliance has flagged this as a concern too, estimating global increases of 31 per cent of maternal and baby deaths due to a decline in maternity service delivery."

In response to Queensland Health's call for all mothers to attend their antenatal appointments, one first-time mother posted: "Is this a joke, seriously this is my first child and I would say 80 per cent of my appointments have been over the phone. I have had to demand to be seen in person.

"I am 34 weeks and can count on one hand how many times I have been seen. We have had no support, no classes offered. You're going to end up with a lot of women with postnatal depression."


Cortney Fitzpatrick with her twins Hudson and Summer, 5, is now pregnant with twins again and has only had antenatal appointments by phone. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Cortney Fitzpatrick with her twins Hudson and Summer, 5, is now pregnant with twins again and has only had antenatal appointments by phone. Picture: Jamie Hanson


Courtney Fitzpatrick is just one expectant mother of twins who has had only telehealth appointments. The 33-year-old Brisbane woman is 16 weeks' pregnant and has gestational diabetes.

"I already have a set of five-year-old twins through the Mater Mothers, and the experience was great ... but this time I feel I have been thrown on the scrap heap.

"I have no problem going into the hospital for appointments, and Queensland Health is saying it's safe, so why can I not go in there and see a doctor?" she said.

Ms Fitzpatrick is checking her own sugar levels and has been asked to take her own blood pressure but does not have a machine.

"It's very DIY, and I have been kicking and screaming to see a doctor in person, but it seems that is not the way it works now."

A Queensland Health spokesman said the COVID-19 crisis had been a difficult time but the department wanted women to attend hospital appointments.

"We are moving back to more face-to-face visits, particularly for things like antenatal visits," he said.

Originally published as Death fears as pregnant women denied examinations