Wollongong Hospital's maternity services failing mums, staff

Staff shortages: Denis Wann wants mothers and babies - such as his daughter Michaela Schulz and grandson Eli - to have better births. Picture: Robert Peet
Staff shortages: Denis Wann wants mothers and babies - such as his daughter Michaela Schulz and grandson Eli - to have better births. Picture: Robert Peet

A critical shortage of staff at Wollongong Hospital’s maternity unit is leaving midwives ‘’stretched and stressed’’.

That’s the word from Denis Wann – president of the Wollongong branch of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association – who has called for urgent improvements to maternity services at the hospital.

On Tuesday, at the launch of a community awareness campaign attended by scores of parents and babies, the clinical midwifery educator said he feared patient safety would be severely compromised unless action was taken.

Read more: Wollongong's birthing suites 'dirty, outdated and understaffed'

‘’A review of BirthRate Plus in March 2016 showed that Wollongong Hospital was 19.5 midwives short,’’ he said.

‘’This critical shortage is leaving midwives so stretched and stressed that they can’t give the care they want to give.

‘’Every midwife goes to work wanting to do the best for mothers and babies … it’s awful seeing senior clinicians breaking down crying because they just can’t do that.’’

Mr Wann said typically one midwife can care for up to 26 women – a ratio that was not safe and could not continue.

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

‘’Even when we’re so short staffed midwives are still being expected to do clerical work and cleaning which takes them away from time spent with mothers and babies,’’ he said.

‘’Wollongong Hospital is a tertiary referral hospital and as the only major birthing site in the region north of Shoalhaven, it should be providing a much higher standard to the community.

‘’That’s why we are calling on (NSW Health Minister) Brad Hazzard to urgently intervene.”

The NSWNMA has joined forces with Better Births Illawarra, a consumer group formed to lobby the hospital to expand its Midwifery Group Practice (MGP) services.

‘’I had a fantastic experience on the MGP program and afterwards teamed up with other new mothers who felt it was unfair so many women are missing our on this midwife-led care,’’ Better Births spokeswoman Melanie Barnes said.

‘’So we started advocating for the expansion of the MGP, as well as improvements for the whole maternity unit.

‘’Mothers want women-centred care, where they are listened to and are able to make their own decisions.

‘’One of the things that gets in the way of this is the high level of understaffing.’’

Wollongong MP Paul Scully said it was high time the state government took notice of community, and staff, concerns.

‘’This has been going on too long – these issues have been raised with the minister and the local health district many times,’’ he said.

‘’Wollongong is not a rural or remote hospital – it’s a major regional hospital that’s not meeting basic demand and it’s not an acceptable level of service.

‘’The health district needs to engage better strategies to recruit midwives, and it needs to talk to parents and staff about the physical changes needed in the unit to make it more comfortable.’’

Bellambi mum Rebekka Klevjer had both her children at Wollongong Hospital.

‘’I felt my care was compromised during both births due to understaffing,’’ she said.

‘’The resources are really outdated and what can be offered is really limited – I ended up bringing birthing balls, yoga mats and towels myself because I wasn’t confident they’d have what I needed.’’

Shaylee Chapman, of Dapto, had a different experience on the MGP program.

‘’The quality of care was amazing – I had the same midwife for both my pregnancies and when my husband developed cancer late in one pregnancy they did everything they could to squeeze my appointments around his treatments.’’

Another Dapto mum Sarah Shaw was also fortunate to gain access to the specialised program: ‘’I think every mum in the Illawarra should have that opportunity.’’

Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District executive director clinical operations Margaret Martin said the provision of ‘’safe and high quality care’’ to mothers, babies and families was the maternity service’s highest priority.

She said currently there were 12 midwife vacancies; and while they were recruiting to fill these vacancies, shifts were being filled with temporary and casual midwives. However 13 midwives had been employed since July 2017.

Maternity forums had been held with staff, most recently on October 12, to give midwives the opportunity to ask questions and raise their suggestions and ideas.

Ms Martin said the hospital was using a number of recruitment strategies, including updated recruitment and attraction material for midwives; a centralised and fast-tracked recruitment process and ongoing rolling advertisements.

A midwifery capacity-building strategy had also been established for internal staff, while opportunity had been provided within the hospital for registered nurses who also hold midwifery registration to rotate through maternity services

‘’In addition to midwifery positions, we have also been working to fill non-clinical positions to provide midwives with support for domestic and clerical tasks,’’ Ms Martin said.