Expectant mother says decision to shut Opotiki birthing clinic put women 'at risk'

A decision to temporarily close Opotiki's only birthing unit has sparked anger in the community with fears expectant mothers will be put at risk.

Riaa Sekona is seven months pregnant and was excited by the idea of having her baby in January her home town, drug-free with no medical intervention. 

Now the idea of having to travel 45 minutes to Whakatane while in labour has her terrified. 

Her midwife, Lisa Kelly, shared the news on Facebook claiming her and other staff received a notice on Thursday morning from the Bay of Plenty DHB notifying them of the December 1st closure - just three days away.  

"To only give 3 days notice is appalling," Sekona told Newshub. 

She says as well as Opotiki patients, women from Waihau Bay, Te Kaha and surrounding regions will have to travel to Whakatane as well. 

"This puts me and many other mamas at risk," she told Newshub. "We really need this unit to stay open. Hapū mama deserve better. 

"We know those roads. Anything can happen between Opotiki and Whakatane. This is simply not the solution."

The soon-to-be mother shares worries that the baby might come at a time when the Wainui is flooded out and when there's slips in Waimana. 

"Our people need this. This has caused so much stress for our expecting mama. That's our reality," she says. 

She joined with others to create a petition in the hope it garners support from around the country. 

The BOPDHB confirmed the closure on its website, saying it would be from 1 December - 30 March 2020 due to "inadequate staffing of midwives".

"We know this decision will have an impact on expectant mothers who are due to give birth at Ōpōtiki Maternity Unit and we apologise for the impact this will have on their birthing plans," it said. 

"We cannot solve these issues alone and are committed to working with the community to build a sustainable and equitable maternity system across our whole district."

Midwife Lisa Kelly said it's not good enough. 

"It is unacceptable and puts our mamas and babies at risk. Whanau and midwives need your help to keep our birthing services open." 

In June, renewed calls were made for the Government to improve maternity services after a baby was born in the carpark of the new maternity hub - the third emergency birth since the town's birthing centre was downgraded in April.

Rural Women New Zealand (RWNZ) is disappointed with the reviews and said more focus needed to be on action. 

"Access to essential health services including proper maternity services for rural women and babies, is needed by rural communities," said Mudford.