Wollongong's birthing suites 'dirty, outdated and understaffed'

Bad experience: Unanderra mother Alyssa Booth opted for a home birth with Judah four weeks ago, after a frustrating stay at Wollongong's Hospital's maternity unit with daughter Amilia, 3. Picture: Georgia Matts
Bad experience: Unanderra mother Alyssa Booth opted for a home birth with Judah four weeks ago, after a frustrating stay at Wollongong's Hospital's maternity unit with daughter Amilia, 3. Picture: Georgia Matts

Mothers have spoken out about the sorry state of Wollongong Hospital’s birthing suites – claiming they’re dirty, without basic tools like mats or balls and chronically understaffed.

Giselle Coromandel – the president of patient advocacy group Better Births Illawarra – said while hospital management was working with the group on improvements, the birthing suites as well as pre - and post-natal care in the maternity ward remained ‘’disgraceful’’.

‘’We’re hearing horror stories; one woman told me that when she was admitted to the birthing suite recently, her room hadn’t been cleaned from the previous birth and there was blood all over the ensuite,’’ she said.

Action needed: Better Births Illawarra president Giselle Coromandel wants improved care for women before, during and after birth. Picture: Georgia Matts

Action needed: Better Births Illawarra president Giselle Coromandel wants improved care for women before, during and after birth. Picture: Georgia Matts

‘’The suites are lacking basic equipment like birthing mats and balls which allow women to get into more comfortable positions to facilitate normal births.

‘’Lack of midwives is also an issue before, during and after birth. New mothers are not getting the breastfeeding support and other specialist care that is so vital.’’

The ‘’chronic shortage’’ of midwives was confirmed by Wollongong Hospital clinical midwifery educator Denis Wann. He said at least 10 more midwives were needed to cater for the busy maternity department – the only public maternity unit in the Illawarra, catering for more than 2500 births annually.

Mr Wann – Wollongong branch president of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association – said the shortages were stressing staff, who were concerned about the affect on their patients.

‘’We’ve been concerned about staffing levels for a number of years,’’ Mr Wann said.

‘’The Birthrate Plus review in March 2016  vindicated our concerns, revealing that the hospital was short 19.5 (full-time) midwives.

It’s a crucial time when you’re a first-time mum and if you’re lacking that initial support then you’re off to a bad start.

Unanderra mother Alyssa Booth

‘’More were recruited, although five have since left due to the stress of heavy workloads, and we’re still around 10 midwives short.’’

Mr Wann said the shortage meant that there was usually only two midwives on duty to cater for 28 new mothers and their babies.

‘’There are nurses to assist but only two skilled midwives having to look after all these women,’’ he said.

Read more: 7 out of 10 Illawarra women denied access to Wollongong midwifery program

‘’These midwives are passionate about helping mothers, and so are concerned that they’re not getting the optimum care. For instance they’re worried women are giving up on breastfeeding because they’re not being supported properly.’’

Unanderra mother Alyssa Booth chose a home birth for her second child Judah four weeks ago due to her negative experience at Wollongong Hospital’s maternity ward with her daughter Amilia in 2014.

‘’It was my first child and I had lots of questions but once I got back to the maternity ward I struggled to see anyone,’’ she said.

‘’At one point I buzzed for help because my daughter was choking but no-one came for 20 minutes, by which stage I’d thankfully managed to help her myself.

‘’All the midwives were awesome when you did see them, but there just weren’t enough of them.

‘’It’s a crucial time when you’re a first-time mum and if you’re lacking that initial support then you’re off to a bad start. It’s not the blissful time it should be.’’

Mrs Coromandel said the hospital had agreed to a ‘’consumer audit’’ at the maternity unit this week, by renowned birth environment expert Dr Athena Hammond. As well as a better birth environment, her group is calling for the more personalised Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) program to be expanded.

Mr Wann said a better environment and enhanced services may entice new midwives to the hospital.

‘’We do know there’s a shortage of midwives across NSW, but if young midwives saw that Wollongong had a good MGP program and other initiatives in place then they’d want to come here – and they’d want to stay.’’

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District executive director clinical operations Nicole Sheppard said the safety of patients, and well-being of staff, was paramount.

She said the district was working to fill vacancies within the maternity service and had implemented a range of measures to address recruitment challenges.

These included a fast-tracked process, updated advertising material and opportunities for RNs to rotate through maternity services.

‘’We have also been working to fill non-clinical positions to provide midwives support with domestic and clerical tasks.’’

More broadly, Ms Sheppard said the district was undertaking a full review and redesign of the maternity division’s models of care, referred to as Project 2020.

‘’This includes seeking input from consumer group, Better Births Illawarra. Also underway is a birthing unit modernisation project to review the physical layout of the unit to create an optimal birthing environment for women who birth with us at Wollongong.’’