Belinda Melville is disappointed she cannot have her baby at the hospital of her choice.
Belinda Melville is disappointed she cannot have her baby at the hospital of her choice.

Maternity closes: Friendlies' unit shuts after 2500 babies

BELINDA Melville's plans for the perfect birth of her first child have been shattered by the Friendly Society Private Hospital's decision to close its maternity ward.

Having a baby in a private hospital will soon be impossible in Bundaberg with a chronic midwife shortage forcing expectant mothers to check in to Bundaberg Base Hospital from Monday, February 13.

The move will put more pressure on Bundaberg Base Hospital's Family Unit, but management claim the hospital will be able to cater for the additional influx of pregnant mothers.

Ms Melville, one of many mothers booked in after the February 13 deadline, has no choice except to visit the Base hospital for the birth of her baby in late March.

"I'm very worried and disappointed - I'm having a baby and I've planned it all and I went and saw the birthing suite (at the Friendlies) and everything and now I'll have to have it somewhere else,'' Ms Melville said.

"It's good that the Base is taking us on and we're lucky we've got somewhere to go, but I have private health insurance and I wanted to have my baby in a private hospital.

"I'm a bit thrown. It would be different if this wasn't my first, but this is supposed to be a very important time of life.''

Friendly Society Private Hospital chief executive officer Alan Cooper said the lack of midwives made the maternity unit "unsafe''.

"After 11 years and in excess of 2500 babies delivered, the Friendlies have been forced to close one of their most valued services, due to an inability to procure sufficient midwives to staff the unit,'' Mr Cooper said.

Mr Cooper said the hospital spent all of last year, and $15,000, trying to recruit midwives from the United Kingdom and Australia.

"We advertised in newspapers, through agencies, our website and a recruitment agency - we spent in excess of $15,000,'' he said.

"It's costly when you advertise and you get no response at all from Australia.''

He said with the average age of midwives being 48, most were unable to cope with the long hours.

"It had been something we had been able to manage over the last 12 months - we had a good number of staff, but there had been a slow diminishing of staff,'' he said.

"At the latter part of the year, the staff indicated they were leaving town and we just couldn't recruit fast enough and we came to a dead end.

"We're very disappointed because we were looking to increase the number of deliveries this year.''

Mr Cooper predicted the nurse and doctor shortage would plague Australia's other health services in the future.

"We've been working with Bundaberg Base Hospital and they have sufficient staff, but I think down the track it will come back to the doctor (shortage) issue.''

He said obstetrician Doctor Trevor Davies' decision to retire had not impacted on the decision to close the unit.

"If in the future there is a significant turn-around in midwifery staff I would consider putting it back into operation because the infrastructure is there, but I would be negligent if I continued now,'' Mr Cooper said.

Mr Cooper blamed the closure on the inaction of successive federal governments to train the necessary number of nurses and address the extra cost of midwifery training faced by those keen to specialise in the area.

He said young nurses looking to undertake midwifery training faced the cost of foregoing an income to do the training and pay back the HECS bill.

"The government needs to do something very quickly - not only do they need to get them here for training, but they have to find ways to retain them because people are using the training as a stepping stone to other services.

"I have no problem expanding the role of nurses, but the government has to have the quantity of nurses beforehand.''

Expectant mum Terri-Anne McWha, said the news was "short notice for mothers-to-be and the medical profession''.

Bundaberg mother-of-three Margaret Charteris, who had all her children at the Friendlies, said the news would be an "added stress'' to pregnant women.

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