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Action Needed On Rural Maternity Services

Maternity services are failing women in many rural areas, and the New Zealand Medical Association is calling for improvements.

"While most births go smoothly, medical back-up is needed for many pregnant women in rural areas which are often far away from the reassurance of major hospitals with specialist services," said Dr John Adams, Chairman of the New Zealand Medical Association. "The current system discourages GPs from doing maternity work, and this lack of medical input is becoming particularly noticeable in rural areas which do not have ready access to specialists."

He was responding to comments by the Ministry of Health, reported over the weekend, that women in rural areas could, if necessary, go to base hospitals to give birth.

"It is simply not good enough to say that rural women can access specialist care at their nearest base hospital. In some cases these hospitals are two hours away," Dr Adams said. "It is not always possible to accurately predict which pregnant women will need specialist services."

The current maternity system is supposed to give women a choice of Lead Maternity Carer, but many women now have no choice at all, particularly in rural areas. The NZMA supports a collaborative approach to maternity services, but this is difficult in the current environment. Ideally, health professionals with high levels of skill and experience would be able to work together.

Another major concern is that many specialist obstetricians are ceasing maternity work and turning solely to gynaecology.

"It's time for the Ministry to get its head out of the sand on this issue. Do we have to wait until problems arise before changes are made?" Dr Adams concluded.


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