Te Whatu Ora says the two rural Waikato birthing centres slated for closure have reported declines in the number of births, with pregnant women choosing to access Waikato Hospital or other services instead.
Lisa Gestro, executive director of strategy at Te Whatu Ora Waikato, told Farmers Weekly in a written statement that the funding provided for the facilities was commercially sensitive.
However, she confirmed there has been no recent change to the funding model for the services.
Waikato Hospital supported 3800 births last year, she said, and the Waihi and Huntly facilities reported 1-2 births a week in total.
She said staff at Te Whatu Ora had responded to requests by Waihi Lifecare for funding requests for more midwives. “Waihi submitted a proposal which was not accepted.”
She said the Waihi proposal had broader system implications for workforce resources, by prompting staff to relocate, and this was not supported.
She confirmed that, following the closures, primary birthing facilities will remain available in Thames and Bethlehem in Tauranga for Waihi mothers-to-be, and Hamilton for Huntly mothers-to-be.
But the closure of the two Waikato birthing units has Hauora Taiwhenua, the Rural Health Network, concerned for the future of other rural health units throughout New Zealand.
Network chair and Whangamatā GP Dr Fiona Bolden told Farmers Weekly the closures leave women throughout the region far too distant from their next-best option, and many are opting not to seek adequate neonatal care as a result.
“For GP care the standard time to access care should be no more than one hour. If you are giving birth one hour can be a long time.”
The closure of the two centres will leave many rural communities at least two hours from either Thames or Hamilton hospitals.
“Working in Whangamatā I see many women who do not have access to natal care and have a long way to drive to deliver. We will probably see an increase in home births, which is fine if you have backup, but not if you don’t.”
She is also advocating for a change to how rural midwives are paid.
“They are paid on a per-mother basis and of course populations are lower and they have much further to travel. In Otago there is a model that recognises this and pays midwives a set amount, regardless of how many mothers they have.”