After nearly two decades, the University of Wollongong will not be training new midwives next year - and possibly not in the future.
Illawarra nurses seeking qualifications in midwifery will have to travel to Newcastle, Sydney, Canberra or further afield for training in this vital area of healthcare.
NSW Nurses and Midwives Association spokeswoman Kate Adams said the suspension was unfortunate given there was already a shortage of midwives across the state, and demand for training was extremely high.
However, UOW Pro Vice-Chancellor Health Professor Don Iverson said the one-year Master of Science Midwifery program needed to be suspended for 2013 while a review was conducted.
The review would look at whether the program would run into the future, and in what form.
Prof Iverson said that none of the students already involved in the program would be disadvantaged while the suspension was in place.
"There is currently a small cohort of about 20 full-time and part-time students undertaking the program with the full-time students completing at the end of this academic year," Prof Iverson said. "There are six part-time students who are currently seeking training positions in midwifery units in NSW and they will need to complete the remainder of their subjects next year.
"The university is accredited to undertake this program until September 2013 and will seek an extension of its accreditation in order to 'teach out' the remaining part-time students."
UOW Dean of Health and Behavioural Sciences Professor Patrick Crookes said the suspension was necessary as the program was up for reaccreditation. "The program we have is an accredited course but we don't believe it would be compliant from next year due to changes occurring in the Australian Qualifications Framework.
"The length of the program is the issue - under the changes a Masters course is expected to be longer. So we need to review it to ensure that if we decide to run a midwifery program in the future, then it is compliant with legislation."
There may be another avenue for would-be midwives to pursue, according to Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District director of nursing Leanne Mills.
"The ISLHD is currently looking at alternatives to providing midwifery training to potential applicants," she said.
Ms Adams, manager of professional services of the midwives association, said it would be a pity if Illawarra nurses were not able to access midwifery training in their region.
"Midwives provide women and child-centred care, throughout pregnancy, birthing and into the post-natal period," she said.
"It is an extremely satisfying career - it is such an honour to be at the birth of someone's child and assist them in the delivery," she said.