Damning report into Southland's maternity hubs prompts renewed call for rollback

The Health Minister is being urged to intervene after a damning report into the rollout of maternity hubs in Southland. 

The report, compiled by Ernst and Young, It found there to be no clear definition of what a hub would actually be and what services it would provide, criticised the Southern District Health Board's "informal" management processes and said there was an "inconsistent delivery of service". 

Clutha-Southland National MP Hamish Walker, who has advocated for the reopening of the Lumsden Maternity Centre, is feeling vindicated.

"Clearly this report shows how much of a disaster the rollout of this model has been," he told Newshub. "It's going to be very interesting if the Health Minister holds his DHB to account and orders an independent investigation into the strategy."

Walker says rural mothers need to stop being treated like second-class citizens, and it's rubbish to say births that happened in unintended locations were unavoidable.

The Lumsden Maternity Hub was not properly equipped for an emergency birth that happened in June, a midwife claimed at the time. That same month another mother gave birth in the carpark, following a birth in an ambulance outside the hub in May.

Walker says some mothers are moving out of Southland they are so concerned about giving birth there.

"Mothers are giving birth at home on the farm because they can't afford to take time away not only from the farm, but their community where their support networks are."

Hamish Walker.
Hamish Walker. Photo credit: Supplied

Walker says the report's recommendations bring little comfort.

"The recommendations are very chilling - it shows the rollout of the new model has been a complete failure from go to woe. The Health Minister needs to act now and reinstate Lumsden maternity." 

Walker also wants the Health Minister to order an investigation into the overall strategy. 

The Health Select Committee - which is 50 percent National MPs - rejected Walker's pleas in August.

Southern DHB chief executive Chris Fleming told the Otago Daily Times while they accept the findings, the report "reflects the challenges we have faced implementing the system of care".

"We particularly acknowledge that the transition to a hub in Lumsden has been a concern for the rural Southland community, and there was more we could have done to ensure this change went more smoothly."

Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter says the DHB has a lot of work to do to regain people's trust, particularly in northern Southland.

"Mums and babies need to be confident that they have the support and care they need. Southern DHB didn’t bring the community along with their changes from 2016 onwards, and didn’t have a viable substitute in place before downgrading the birthing unit in Lumsdenm."

Genter said she has asked for "stronger oversigth" for Southern DHB maternity services to ensure the changes are made promptly.

"I expect all of the recommendations to be implemented by the DHB. The previous Government passed the buck and forced the DHB in Dunedin to make these decisions."

"This government has put an extra $37.8 million into Southern DHB, as well as an extra $5 million nationally for rural workforce, including $500,000 for rural midwives."

"No Minister can order the DHB to re-open Lumsden Maternity Centre so that is a matter for the newly elected Southern DHB board."  

Genter said she visited Gore and Wanaka recently and was "impressed with the tenacious midwives" she met.