Murwillumbah slams state over maternity risk

MURWILLUMBAH faces the complete loss of maternity services at the town's hospital because of State Government moves to downgrade the birthing unit.

Furious doctors are warning they will refuse to work in a downgraded and “unsafe” maternity ward and are predicting the hospital will lose all obstetric services, which they claim is the real intention of the North Coast Area Health Service (NCAHS).

Doug Warne, one of four doctors who have been threatening to stop offering obstetric services at the hospital, is calling on the Federal Government to take over hospital services.

“This is permanently bad news and the community needs to get angry and do something about it,” he said yesterday.

Medical staff are furious at NCAHS for slashing maternity services late last week - only days after fully reinstating them.

NCAHS said pregnant mums needing anything more than midwife assistance would be transferred to the already-stretched Tweed hospital.

The decision also came just two days after NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca said, in reply to a question in state parliament, there was “no intention to close maternity services at Murwillumbah District Hospital”.

Mr Della Bosca then said recommendations in a report on the future of the services were “currently under consideration”.

He went on to defend a policy of transferring “pregnant women to large hospitals with greater medical capabilities because that is the safest and most appropriate thing to do.”

Dr Warne said everyone involved within the sector wanted Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to intervene in health services.

He cited a recent Federal Government report which said maternity services were the cornerstone of rural hospitals.

“I think it should happen today,” he added, but warned in the meantime the days of mothers giving birth at Murwillumbah seemed numbered.

“We (the doctors) have made it very clear we won't be continuing to work or supply our services in a system that is inherently unsafe,” he said.

Dr Warne said area health service plans to establish a midwife-led, low-risk maternity unit in Murwillumbah were not achievable partly because “the doctors don't want it and the midwives don't want it.”.

He slammed health service chief executive officer Chris Crawford for saying such a unit would “allow for continued high quality maternity services”.

Dr Warne said the plan would mean transferring mums-in-labour to The Tweed Hospital even for procedures such as pain-relieving epidurals.

“The fact you have to be bundled into an ambulance and sent to Tweed to have something as simple as an epidural is not high quality,” he said.

Lismore Nationals MP Thomas George said he and the doctors felt they had been misled by Mr Della Bosca's answers last Wednesday.

“The minister and the North Coast Area Health Service are treating the clinicians and the residents of Murwillumbah with contempt,” Mr George said.

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