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Statement on Court Verdict

NEW ZEALAND COLLEGE OF MIDWIVES (INC)

Media Statement
21 March 2006

The New Zealand College of Midwives is the professional body for midwives and as such, its role is to set and maintain standards of practice and provide education and support for midwives to achieve that standard of care.

Part of the College’s role in maintaining standards is to support the processes for midwifery accountability and responsibility. There are many avenues open to consumers in which to hold midwives and other health professionals responsible for their care. The Criminal Court would usually be considered a last resort for such accountability and indeed this is the first time in the history of Midwifery that a midwife has been charged with manslaughter.

“Midwives will be relieved for both the family and the midwife that a not guilty verdict has been reached in this tragic case,” says Karen Guilliland, CEO of the New Zealand College of Midwives.

“However most midwives will remain heavy hearted about the use of such an adversarial process being the first port of call to decide their competency or that of any other health provider,” she says.

While a case is before the Courts, the normal professional accountability processes stop and Mrs Guilliland says this does not help the practitioner, the profession or the health system make changes.

“Neither does the College believe it is a forum which heals and resolves the pain a woman, her family and the midwife experience, which comes with the death of a newborn baby. There are also repercussions for the recruitment and retention of health practitioners into a health system already under resourced and understaffed when such a stressful process as the criminal court is used to decide whether professional decision making in this complex service is competent,” Mrs Guilliland says.

Mrs Guilliland believes it is important for the midwifery profession to emphasise that the New Zealand maternity service is a world class one.

“The outcomes for the more than 57000 midwife attended women and their babies that are born each year are second to none,” she says.

Sadly, Karen Guilliland says, some babies do not survive birth and that is devastating for mothers, their families, the wider community and of course the health professionals involved in the birth.

“However, New Zealand newborn babies who die shortly after birth do so at the same rate as those born in Australia and America. Despite recent medical advances, the increase in intervention and the rise of Caesarean section in the western world the numbers of babies born with cerebral palsy or brain damage remain the same. This is regardless of the system of care or the method of funding the service.”

What is different in New Zealand is that most families have access to a known midwife to help them co-ordinate their care 24 hours a day and more NZ mothers have normal vaginal births, less surgical intervention and significantly less trauma to their birth canal despite being at the younger and older age range, than other western countries.

Furthermore, New Zealand babies are more likely to breastfeed, are heavier, and less likely to be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit than babies in Australia or America, for example.

Karen Guilliland says the New Zealand College of Midwives is committed to ensuring that the delivery of the maternity service remains at this high level.

“It is essential that the service is understood and put into the wider world context or we will be in danger of losing the impressive achievements we have made for New Zealand women and their babies in the last 20 years.”

ENDS

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