Dunedin's Queen Mary Maternity Centre forced to close on weekend as burnout causes staffing shortage

Dunedin's Queen Mary Maternity Centre was forced to close its doors over the weekend - for the first time in its history. But the closure wasn't down to mandates or vaccinations.

After decades of nursing Dunedin's newborns, the Queen Mary Maternity Centre was forced to shut its doors - unable to provide staff. The problem isn't vaccine mandates but widespread burnout from its workforce.

"We have some beautiful incredibly skilled midwives that have walked away. They wouldn't have gone if they had had proper treatment, proper pay, proper conditions. So I guess I wasn't surprised," Dunedin lead maternity carer (LMC) midwife Maureen Donnelly says.

Many midwives say the industry is in crisis, a problem they've seen coming for years.

"People knew this was happening," Donnelly says.

"We've been watching as the ambulance has slowly crawled to the cliff and it sat on the edge of the cliff, teetered on the edge. It's gone over the cliff now and it's landed in the water and it's sailing out to sea. It's not coming back."

Today, the ward is back open, but further closures cannot be ruled out if conditions don't improve quickly.

"I'm incredibly concerned for mothers and their babies, this is a very serious issue but it's not a surprise to me," National Dunedin MP Michael Woodhouse says.

"This has been building over the last few years and it really comes down to the fact that midwives do not feel valued and they're leaving the profession in droves."

It's a similar story throughout New Zealand.

"The situation is there's not enough of us. That then leads to not having an independent self-employed midwife and LMC, which then puts the hospital under heaps of strain and then midwives… are completely burnt out because we are overworked and underpaid," LMC midwife Katie Hawkey says.

The job they love is becoming harder to do by the day.

"It's really hard to continue doing something when a lot of the time you actually are working for free," Hawkey adds.

"We love our jobs and I would say that's the reason most of us stay in it because we feel obligated to provide people in New Zealand with our care but eventually that gets really tiring."

Making it harder for the industry to deliver.