‘No commitment’: Rural doctor’s damning birthing units claim
The bypass of Chinchilla's maternity ward has been lambasted by some of Queensland's high ranking rural doctors, prompting a visit to Australia's Parliament House.
Rural Doctors Association of Australia president and Darling Downs doctor John Hall was one of the key speakers at a federal politicians lunch annual held by the organisation on March 16.
Attended by more than 100 politicians, rural doctors, industry leaders, and other stakeholders, maternity wards such as Chinchilla were firmly on the agenda.
"When a rural maternity unit is closed or downgraded, there is a huge adverse impact on local women, their babies and families," Dr Hall said.
"But there is also an enormous cost to the wider local community, as doctors and other highly skilled health professionals are forced to move elsewhere to work in the field they were trained and do the work that they love.
"Rural Australians realise they can't access brain surgery at their local hospital, but they do expect and deserve to be able to access birthing services there.
"While we recognise not every small hospital should be a birthing facility, decisions around birthing service availability need to be based on more than just reactionary closures due to issues that need resolution, not avoidance."
Maternity services in Chinchilla have been non operational for almost three years, despite DDHHS attempting to recruit new nurses and midwives.
The closure forced expecting mothers to travel hundreds of kilometres, with fears they may end up giving birth on the side of the road.
A parliamentary estimates hearing revealed in June 2019, Dalby Hospital came "close" to being put on bypass for a weekend.
RDAA Queensland president doctor Raymond Lewandowski said since its closure, there hadn't been a decision made to restore the vital health service for Chinchilla mums.
"The problem that the RDAA sees is that there has been no tangible commitment to restoring the maternity service," Dr Lewandowski said.
"The Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service stated they were initially committed to restoring it, but they weren't happy to supply a plan to us.
"They've been committed to doing more studies on the issue, but they've delayed this important decision for so long it has inevitably closed."
Dr Lewandowski said the RDAA repeatedly told the DDHHS to prepare a tangible plan with a timeline, for their requests to fall on deaf ears.
"They were never happy to bring forward a timeline, and because of this, they've ended up with no service.
"We told them this would happen, and this was a predictable outcome if nothing was done.
"What has now happened is the people in Chinchilla and the catchment areas will suffer."
Opposition spokesperson for Health Ros Bates said since 2001, a total of 34 rural birthing units had been closed in Queensland, amid claimed parts of the Chinchilla maternity wards had been turned into offices.
Ms Bates said if Dalby's services were to be closed off to expectant mothers, it would cause major distress to the community.
"If Dalby goes offline, all of those families in that region will have to travel into Toowoomba, which is completely unacceptable and heightens the risk of roadside births," she said.
Dr Lewandowski said there had been a 47 per cent increase in the number of babies who were born before arrival, and stated labor was not a "predictable science".
"No one knows when babies are really going to come," he said.
"To not have a maternity ward is an essential part of healthcare, and for these women to have to travel further and further for it, roadside births can be an expected outcome."
DDHHS revealed there had been a spike in regional births when March 2020, was compared to March 2021.
Dalby Hospital recorded 21 babies born in March of last year, with this expected to rise 35 babies in the same month this year.
Toowoomba, Warwick and Stanthorpe Hospitals also recorded rises in births, but a DDHHS spokeswoman said they had no expectations regarding an overall increase or decrease in births in 2021.
"Regardless of whether there is an increase or decrease in births in our region in 2021, our birthing facilities are well equipped and ready to accommodate mums and their new babies," she said.