The Bush Baby Crisis- my 5 cents worth
This was an Opinion Piece, published in Queensland, Courier Mail or Sunday Mail, in August, 2019. I had helped orchestrate a very big and somewhat successful lobbying effort via the media to push for a return to rural maternity services. As a result of this campaign, there has been a commitment by Queensland's Health Minister, Steven Miles, for no more rural maternity units to be closed, and there are now 4 sites planned for trial re-open. Women-power, eh!? So grateful for all those women, midwives and doctors who spoke up about this issue, in order to collectively join forces to improve maternity care. This is what I had to say:
Back in August 2018, the “Bush Baby Crisis” hit front page of The Sunday Mail, with Health Minister, Steven Miles quickly announcing a Rural Maternity Taskforce to address the issues. The media told the sad story of the almost 4-fold variance in death rate of babies (22 weeks to newborn) in rural areas without maternity facilities. But you don’t even need to be able to analyse statistics to understand a very basic concept- removing birthing option does not make birthing safer. The “city lights safety” mantra and centralisation of services has created very dangerous outcomes for our babies and mothers, as we’ve also seen a significant increase in roadside births. Here we were sitting on the edge of our seats, hoping there was going to be a silver lining for our rural families, who, since the 1990s have slowly had their human rights to access local maternity care eroded, yet there has been no announcement of an intention to reinstate services. In the last 12 months alone- we’ve seen Theodore, Mossman, Chinchilla and Nambour communities decimated by this reluctant closure of maternity services. Time and time again we see access to local birthing options recommended in reports and reviews, from the Cheryl Hirst Rebirthing report in 2005, the Commonwealth Review into maternity services in 2008, and the subsequent National Maternity Services Plan (2010-2016) even had local access as its NUMBER ONE priority, yet we have successive governments thinking they’re immune from the evidence, and ride on overtop of community outcry. Here's some very simple solutions, that don’t even need 18 clinicians sitting around a room having a chortle about our reproductive rights- the right to choose our care provider and place of birth. Get some accountability with the HHS Boards and CEOs. The overwhelming incompetence amongst the Boards and CEOs is rife. When the State government provides money for ongoing operation and service delivery, there needs to be accountability for this money, whether in in the service delivery contracts or as KPIs. Start looking at evidence and implementing the recommendations of the many reports into maternity services. It’s beyond me that every State and Health and Hospital Service think they’re above evidence and the recommendations of reports. The Rural Birthing Index is a great place to start, using calculations and science for the recommendation of local birthing options, including the catchment area of maternity services, social vulnerability, the distance to the nearest surgical facility. There is an eye-watering number of towns who should have local maternity services based on this index. Recruitment- where is the decent rural/remote recruitment campaign for maternity? We see consistently re-advertising, HHSs moaning they can’t get staff, yet the reality is, many potential employees have no concept of rural living and the amazing places and opportunities are out there. Take a leaf out of mining recruitment and start “selling” these amazing rural/regional and remote locations to the marketplace. Finally, I think the tokenism provided to maternity consumers is insulting. Start listening to these communities, they know the capability of their health system and location better than any clinician or bureaucrat hailing from the city.