Media Release 24 April 2023
“A sad day.”
That’s how Jill Ovens, the co-leader of MERAS (the Midwives’ union) is describing the news today that St George’s Hospital maternity service is closing.
The maternity contract between St George’s and Te Whatu Ora will not be renewed at the end of June.
St George’s currently provides the only *primary birthing unit in Christchurch, with the nearest alternative half an hour away, by car. A new primary unit is set to open in the city at the end of the year.
“Ideally it would have been better for women to have access to a primary unit in the city until the end of the year but that is not to be,” says Ms Ovens. “There are other options but for Christchurch-based families, they are away from their community which is not ideal for women or midwives,” she says.
Last year a possible closure was announced due to staffing shortages, but staff, midwives, and young mothers rallied to keep the ward open in April presenting a 30,000 signature petition to the hospital’s chief executive Blair Roxborough. The decision deadline was extended as a result.
Jill Ovens says midwife staffing at St George’s has been at critical levels for the last few years which has restricted the number of beds available and resulted in women being turned away.
“St George’s maternity hasn’t been providing a reliable service because of workforce pressures. There needs to be two midwives on each shift to be fully staffed and that has been a challenge,” she says.
The decision today shouldn’t have anyone pointing fingers at Te Whatu Ora or St George’s, Ms Ovens believes.
“The issues are more broadly entrenched across the maternity and health sector, and Aotearoa is reaping what has been sown.”
Ovens is referring to the ongoing workforce stresses combined with the slow recognition of midwives’ skills and value which has seen glacial progress in pay parity negotiations, amongst other things.
“Had those who can make the difference been courageous enough to sort multiple issues out when they were first apparent a decade ago, I don’t think we would be in the challenging situation we are now,” she says.
Occupancy in the maternity unit has reportedly dropped 41% in last 12 months.
“Perhaps because of a lack of surety around beds being available, midwives have not been bringing women to St George’s to birth. We really need to rethink how we ensure maternity services are supported better, to provide women with the choices they are entitled to,” says Jill Ovens.
* Primary birthing units provide a “home away from home” environment and are a good option for women with uncomplicated pregnancies. Like home birth, women who choose a Primary Maternity Unit are more likely to have a vaginal birth and are less likely to require medical interventions.
-Ends- For more information please contact Jill Ovens on 021 598 530