National MP Hamish Walker slams Labour after Southland roadside birth

National MP Hamish Walker is blaming Health Minister David Clark after a Southland woman was forced to give birth on the side of the road.

After the Lumsden Maternity Centre was downgraded by the Southern District Health Board (SDHB) in favour of sending women elsewhere, Walker, and midwives, are warning this would lead to more roadside births.

Now their worst fears are coming true. Earlier on Sunday, Walker says the unnamed mother gave birth in the race to another facility. She and her baby were lucky to survive.

"I'm standing here at the side of the road just south of Lumsden where at 6:45 this morning a baby was born," he says in a Facebook video.

"What a relief that mother and baby are doing ok. I hate to say it, but we told you so. We predicted this would happen. The next time this happens we might not be so lucky."

Last year, the SDHB said there just aren't enough people in the area to justify the centre's continued operation. It said it was trying to figure out the "best long-term location of a primary birthing unit in central Otago".

"Southern DHB covers the largest geographic area of any DHB, and our climate and geography add further challenges," spokeswomen Lisa Gestro said last August. "We have needed to think differently about how to expand the reach of the care we provide."

But the change proved extremely controversial with both experts and the community.

In 2018, Alison Eddy from the New Zealand College of Midwives told Three's The Project the centre's closure shows the lack of importance placed on birthing care in New Zealand.

"The research is really clear; if you're a well woman having a straightforward, uncomplicated pregnancy, you're going to have a much better experience [at a birthing centre]," she said.

"We would argue that maternity services haven't been prioritised sufficiently by DHBs or the Ministry of Health for a number of years.

"We're just women looking after women having babies, so midwives and maternity services have often been really low down the rung of DHB and ministry priorities."

A petition to save the centre was signed by over 5000 people and presented to Parliament - but Walker says Clark ignored this.

"The minister had a 5000-strong petition handed to him a few months ago. For the sake of a couple of hundred thousand dollars, he's refusing to even talk to the directors," he told Newshub.

He now wants to know if it's going to "take a death before the SDHB and Government listen to the community".

"Downgrading the Lumsden Maternity Hospital puts rural Southland mothers and babies' lives at risk," he says in his Facebook video.

"Not having the emergency hub up and running puts mothers and babies' lives at risk. The Southland community has been ignored time and time again by the DHB and Labour Health Minister David Clark.

"I wrote to the Health Minister three different times advising him this will happen. We're being ignored. How many more times does this need to happen before the DHB and the Government listen to us and reinstate full services at the Lumsden Maternity Hospital?"