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Midwife crisis

ON DIVERSION: The midwifery department at Leongatha Hospital was on bypass for two days last week.

MATT DUNN

 

LEONGATHA Hospital’s maternity ward was closed for two days last week as understaffing and skyrocketing staff sick leave hit crisis point.

The ward was closed from 9pm last Tuesday to 9pm last Thursday.

The closure is the second in two months. Last time, the ward was also closed for two days.

One expectant mum, who was due to give to birth in coming days, feared she would be looking for alternative hospitals.

“I will have to go to Wonthaggi and that is a 40 minute drive and I have children to look after at home, so it is a worrying time for us,” she said.

“I have a lot of other friends in town who are pregnant and they may not be able to go to their own hospital either.”

Hospital CEO Mark Johnson said he could not rule out further closures in the future, as the hospital struggles to attract and retain midwives.

“We can’t categorically say it won’t continue happen again. When sick leave occurs there’s the possibility we’ll be forced to go diversion,” Mr Johnson said.  

“Our ultimate priority is to ensure that we’re providing a safe service. We’re not going to suggest women come into birth if we can’t provide a safer service – that’s our number one aim.”

Mr Johnson said that patients could make the trek to Wonthaggi, Foster, Warragul and Traralgon, but the “choice is up the birthing mothers in the end”.

The Star spoke to staff and former staff at the hospital. None said they could speak on the record, as they feared losing their jobs because of enforced non-disclosure agreements.

One, who spoke on guarantee of anonymity, said relations between some staff and managers was strained.

“If I was being bullied, I would have nowhere to go,” the worker said. 

Mr Johnson rejected the idea that the hospital suffered from a poor work culture, saying he was “not aware” of any issues.

“I haven’t had anything brought to my attention to that effect, though we certainly have processes to enable that,” he said.

He said he could not say how many midwives were on sick leave, but another three full time midwives were needed, with the hospital reliant on agency staff to cover current shortfalls.  

“We’re short staffed at the moment. Employing midwives is very difficult throughout the country, not just the state,” he said.  

“We’re relying on agency staff to support our workforce and we continue to try and recruit, though it’s very difficult. There isn’t always continuity.”

While the shortage of midwives working in rural Victoria is well known, official figures show that from April to June 2019 there were 8942 practising midwives registered in Victoria, up from 8850 in the same period in 2018.

Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said she’d been advised by Gippsland Southern Health Service that the closure was a “necessary but temporary change due to unforeseen circumstances”.

“Quality of care and patient safety must always be the top priorities when it comes to maternity services,” she said.

“Victoria’s network of maternity services ensures that in instances when expert health professionals are unavailable for planned or unplanned reasons, new and expectant mums can still get the care they need as close to home as possible.”

 

 

 

 

Short URL: http://thestar.com.au/?p=30103

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