New Wanaka birthing option

Community driven: Wanaka maternal and child hub coordinator Morgan Weathington

Expectant Queenstown mums will get access to a new primary birthing unit in Wanaka, but Queenstown-based Opposition MP Joseph Mooney says much more needs to be done.

The facility, announced this week, will open in early 2023 and will include one birthing room and three postnatal stay rooms.

Wanaka maternal and child hub coordinator Morgan Weathington says the unit gives expectant mums in the region more options.

‘‘For some women in rural places, home birth is the only option to have a primary-setting birth, unless they are going to drive out to a primary unit or to another birthing centre like Dunedin or Invercargill,’’ Weathington says.

‘‘Having primary units out in these rural regions means that we are striving for an equity of service for people in rural populations.’’

She says the unit’s an ‘‘exciting step’’ for Wanaka, and owed its success to the community getting behind the idea, and advocating for it.

At present, the closest option for people in Wanaka to birth in a unit setting is Alexandra, which is more than an hour away.

Te Whatu Ora Southern primary maternity acting service manager Hannah Gentile says similarly, Queenstown mums, if they can’t use the primary birthing unit at Lakes District Hospital, generally travel to Winton, because the ‘‘easiest direction of flow’’ for them is towards Invercargill.

Anyone is welcome to use the new primary birthing unit in Wanaka, she says, but whether it’s the best choice depends on the midwife, and geographical circumstances.

‘‘The idea behind [primary birthing units] is about [being] closer to home care, so Queenstown mums have their own primary unit at Lakes hospital, so our preference would always be that they choose to birth there.

‘‘Also, it depends on the midwife they choose, because each midwife has access agreements to different units,’’ Gentile says.

Closer to home: Te Whatu Ora Southern primary maternity acting service manager Hannah Gentile

If the Queenstown primary birthing unit was full, and Wanaka had capacity, mothers might be able to travel over the Crown Range to deliver.

‘‘The idea is that capacity is shared across the region … again, it will depend a little bit on the midwife and where the midwife is going to travel to as well,’’ Gentile says.

The primary birthing units are for low-risk mothers, meaning if the birth is likely to be more complex, they’ll still need to travel to Invercargill or Dunedin.

Queenstown-based National MP Mooney says the opening of another primary birthing unit is ‘‘a great step’’, but there’s still work to be done.

Having raised the need for urgent action to improve access to maternity services in a letter to Health Minister Andrew Little and Associate Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall last June, Mooney says he’s yet to see any material improvement.

‘‘They’ve focused on a bureaucratic reform of the health sector and centralised decision-making, but they haven’t, in my view, put real focus on both a domestic and worldwide shortage of midwives.’’

Weathington says she doesn’t anticipate staffing will be a challenge.

Before it opens, the unit will be finalising the midwifery model of care, seeking to create a more sustainable work environment.

‘‘What we’re hoping to do is create a model of care where our case-loading midwives and the core midwives are working quite seamlessly together within this primary unit.

‘‘I think it will be easier to recruit people, and we’ll have a larger team to work our service.’’

Mooney says designing that model of care in consultation with local midwives will be critical, and he’ll keep lobbying government to improve services.

‘‘I really hope that [Health NZ] take this opportunity to actually look at the very real issues that we have now and the ones developing at a rapid pace,’’ he says.

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