Closure of Opotiki birthing unit will lead to 'babies born on the side of the road' - College of Midwives

A lack of funding for birthing centres is at odds with the Government's claims it is making child wellbeing a priority, says the New Zealand College of Midwives.

Earlier this week, the Bay of Plenty District Health Board announced services at the maternity unit at Opotiki would be suspended for four months due to "inadequate staffing of midwives". But Alison Eddy, the College of Midwives' chief executive, says the decision puts both women and babies at risk.

"This Government has really nailed its colours to the mast with child wellbeing and pay equity," Eddy told The AM Show on Friday morning. "How [much] earlier can you get in a child's wellbeing than a pregnancy, and having good pregnancy care and good birth?"

Staff at the clinic say they found out on Thursday that the unit would be closing on December 1st - giving them just three days' notice.

It follows an announcement last year that Lumsden Maternity Centre, in Southland, would be downgraded from a centre to a hub, meaning bed and birthing pool services would no longer be available.

In that case, the closure went ahead despite Ministry of Health advice to Health Minister David Clark and Associate Minister Julie Anne Genter about the proposal.

Eddy says it's "perplexing" why more funding isn't available for such clinics and that the cuts to services shouldn't be happening.

"We're really perplexed that we just haven't got the traction with the politicians and policymakers that we would have assumed, given these big political imperatives this Government is putting forward."

She says the problem is "systemic", with midwifery throughout the country facing workforce shortages.

"It's not supported properly through the current funding model so nationally we've been asking for changes to that for some years now and we're really concerned that the pace of change has been far too slow."

With the closure of the clinic in Opotiki, Eddy says some pregnant women in the area will have to travel even further in order to give birth.

"This community that is using this unit can travel up to two hours to get to Opotiki. To close the unit and require women to travel another 45 minutes to an hour to access a hospital to have their baby is simply just not right," Eddy says.

"There's simply going to be some babies born on the side of the road."

Eddy's fears have been echoed by women living in the area.

Riaa Sekona, who is seven months pregnant, told Newshub she was terrified of the thought of having to travel 45 minutes to Whakatane while in Labour.

"We really need this unit to stay open. Hapū mama deserve better," she said.

Eddy says there are between 50-70 births per year at the Opotiki birthing unit, but many mothers also visit for check ups and post natal care.

A petition has been created to stop the unit being closed.

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