New program will allow rural maternity professionals to apply for the opportunity to work shifts in bigger and busier hospitals to keep skills fresh.
New program will allow rural maternity professionals to apply for the opportunity to work shifts in bigger and busier hospitals to keep skills fresh. Marian Faa

Maternity report proposes changes for rural mums

RURAL maternity clinicians in bush hospitals will be allowed to spend time working in larger hospitals in an effort to bring more consistent and improved care to women choosing to give birth in rural hospitals.

A fund will be established for a new program which will allow midwives and physicians at rural hospitals to rotate through larger hospitals in a bid to attract and retain maternity professionals.

It is one of several actions Health Minister Steven Miles introduced in response to the Rural Maternity Taskforce report released this past Wednesday.

"One of the challenges for health services is offering services in towns where there is a very low number of births, it's very hard to keep your skills current," Mr Miles said.

"We are proposing a trial where, for example, a midwife from Chinchilla could spend a few weeks a year living and working in Toowoomba or the Gold Coast or even Melbourne to make sure they see enough births."

Mr Miles said $500,000 would be allocated to the trial, which could be expanded if popular.

He anticipated clinicians might appreciate a chance to spend part of their year in a bigger city - while ensuring services would be maintained in their absence.

"We want to attract more staff to regional areas, and if this helps even better."

Mr Miles also said further reductions in health services would soon require special ministerial approval.

"We will continue to task health boards with determining what services are delivered where, but given the level of community interest I think it's appropriate I or whoever is minister can say no.

"I think the need for ministerial approval will ensure health services do everything they can to keep vital rural and remote health services open," Mr Miles said.

Queensland's Hospital and Health services will now have to consider how rural and remote maternity services in their HHS can be improved and strengthened.

Mackay Hospital and Health Service chief Jo Whitehead said midwifery and obstetrics staff already worked closely together to support each other.

"There are currently opportunities for midwifery and obstetrics staff in the Whitsundays to undertake professional development at Mackay Base Hospital," Ms Whitehead said.

"Post-graduate midwives in Proserpine also spend time at Mackay Base and more experienced midwives are able to spend time in the special care nursery to upskill."

"Mackay midwives have also worked in Proserpine and enjoyed the opportunity to see how a rural hospital birthing service works."

Rural Doctors Association of Queensland president Clare Walker welcomed Mr Miles' response to the Rural Maternity Taskforce Report.

RDAQ had been advocating for an effective 'collaborative care' model halting maternity ward closures and allowing for others to reopen since 2005.

"RDAQ believes maternity care should be delivered to women and their families, as close to home as is safe and possible, by a collaborative team with strong governance structures in place," Dr Walker said

Taskforce member and Queensland Nurses and Midwives' Union assistant secretary Sandra Eales said the report focussed on bolstering rural services tailored to women's needs and had long-term viability.

"The important things are the intent to strengthen and reopen primary and secondary maternity units in the bush," Ms Eales said.

"It's important to provide continuity of care locally. Relational care is highly valued by the women; it keeps them feeling safe.

"Another vital aspect is psychological safety - that is, the professional safety of the clinicians on the ground is necessary to ensure services in the bush are sustainable for the communities they serve."

Australian Medical Association Queensland Obstetrics and Gynaecology spokesman, Gino Pecoraro said the taskforce findings provided a first step towards improved services for country Queenslanders.

"We look forward to working with Queensland Health on solutions to attract and maintain doctors with obstetric and anaesthetic skills to rural and regional areas and to delivering practical improvements in maternity care in those communities," Assoc Prof Pecoraro said.

Mr Miles said the taskforce found health services had not properly considered the effect on mothers when deciding to close services.

"The taskforce has listened to women and doctors and midwives from all over Queensland and found their concerns are valid - health services were overly focused on clinical risks and not concerned enough about the effect travel had on expectant mothers and their families," Mr Miles said.

"They will look at maternity services in every Queensland town, across 110 rural and remote facilities, and work out if there's a way to attract and retain staff, keep their skills current and upgrade the service - this must be completed in two years.

"This won't mean health services can open birthing services everywhere, they will still need to consider safety, staffing and demand, but for the first time the preferences of mums to birth closer to home will be considered. too."