Yass Valley maternity services investigation launched

CRYING OUT FOR MORE: Southern NSW Local Health District launches an investigation into prenatal and antenatal services in Yass Valley. Photo: Christian Bowen, GENERIC
CRYING OUT FOR MORE: Southern NSW Local Health District launches an investigation into prenatal and antenatal services in Yass Valley. Photo: Christian Bowen, GENERIC

Health officials will investigate the antenatal and postnatal needs of Yass Valley women following a long campaign from local mothers and the Labor Party to return a maternity ward to Yass District Hospital.

The decision was made at a meeting between NSW health minister Brad Hazzard, state member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman, Yass mother Jasmin Jones and the Southern NSW Local Health District (SNSWLHD), which is responsible for public health services in the state's south.

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The investigation will look into the demand on the current midwife employed 20 hours per week to support pregnant women in the region before and after birth.

The second stage of the investigation will look at wider issues such as the push to return a maternity ward to Yass Hospital.

Recommendations from the review will be provided by SNSWLHD and NSW Health in early 2020.

"We'll continue to consult with the local community and use an evidence-based approach to inform the future planning of maternity services in the Yass Valley area," SNSWLHD acting chief executive Jude Constable said.

"Any increase in resourcing or change to the service will be backed by rigorous research and the clinically-based assessments of subject matter experts."

The investigation will also take into account "the needs of women and families in surrounding communities and existing services to ensure that women's care can be provided in the right place, at the right time," Ms Constable said.

Yass Valley women can travel an hour to give birth at Goulburn Base Hospital, the closest hospital managed by SNSWLHD with a maternity ward. However, most Yass Valley women travel 40 minutes to Canberra hospitals.

Yass mother and councillor Jasmin Jones has been advocating for a maternity ward at Yass Hospital since 2011.

She began advocating when she moved to the town and couldn't believe there wasn't a maternity ward at the regional hospital.

Mrs Jones also gave birth to her third child on the side of the Barton Highway on route to a Canberra hospital.

Cr Jones, acting as a private citizen, said she was "very excited" about the investigation.

She would like to see the local midwife's hours increased to full-time, but said the region really needed three full-time midwives to support the 185 babies born here, according to the last Census.

Cr Jones said she would also continue to advocate for a low-risk maternity ward at Yass Hospital but was pleased to get "a fresh look at Yass Valley".

"Having the minister's eye on Yass Valley will be very helpful," she said.

Jill McGovern, chair of the Yass Hospital Community Consultation Committee, which contributes community views to health service planning, said she fully supported the investigation.

"Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is an increasing need for prenatal services here given that the closest birthing services are over an hour away from Yass and early detection of possible complications is paramount for the safety of both mothers and babies," she said.

A political issue

The maternity ward at Yass Hospital closed in 2004 under a NSW Labor government.

However, this year Labor made a $4.7 million pledge to build a low-risk maternity ward at the hospital if elected.

Despite that promise being lost at both elections, Labor stayed committed to the idea.

New South Wales party leader Jodi McKay, shadow treasurer Walt Secord, shadow mental health minister Tara Moriarty and more recently, shadow health minister Ryan Park MP have visited the region since October to campaign for the issue.

Then on October 24, in a vote of 22 to 15, NSW Parliament's Legislative Council voted to support the community-based campaign to restore low-risk maternity services to Yass Hospital. The debate was led by shadow treasurer Mr Secord.

Until now, Liberal hadn't rushed into any commitments, with member for Goulburn Wendy Tuckerman maintaining she wanted to build a case to present to the ministry and that $4.7m wasn't enough to deliver a low-risk birthing unit.

"It is important that we begin the discussion and start planning for the future," Mrs Tuckerman said.

"The prediction is that we are going to have a significant increase in population but we need to do the homework around service provision if the majority of the growth is on the ACT border or in fact around the Murrumbateman area."

Yass Valley's population is expected to double to 23,400 by 2036, however, Mrs Tuckerman said she shared health official concerns for a low-risk maternity unit at Yass Hospital.

A chief obstetrician in the meeting said there would need to be about 550 births per year in Yass Valley to make a low-risk birthing unit at Yass Hospital sustainable, according to Mrs Tuckerman.

The chief obstetrician also said only a third of cases would be considered low risk.

"I am of the view that we need to start building the services currently provided for antenatal and postnatal and I look forward to hearing the outcomes of further investigations into the possible extension of those services to full-time," Mrs Tuckerman said.

"As that service builds in time and is sustainable, we then begin to build our case for full maternity services and hopefully that means we then will have interest from the specialists to work and support the service and provide that continuity of care for our community."

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