Latest sign our rural birthing is Third World
DOCTORS and nurses are handing mums-to-be DIY birthing kits because they fear they won't make it to hospital in time in stark proof of the maternity crisis gripping rural Queensland.
Closed or mothballed maternity wards means mums are being forced to drive hundreds of kilometres and between two and four hours to their nearest functioning hospitals, simply too far for many to make it before giving birth.
The kits - similar to those handed out by Third World aid agencies and containing gloves, umbilical cord clips and alcohol wipes - are being handed out in a desperate unofficial measure to give mums a chance to deliver their babies in the shocking and growing number of births beside the road.
But doctors and nurses say the DIY birth kits won't help mums who experience complications during labour and the wards at local hospitals need to be staffed and reopened.
The Sunday Mail has revealed the depth of the state's country maternity crisis, the wards shutting down, skyrocketing numbers of babies being born beside the road on the way to hospital and damning increases in child mortality rates in areas where wards have been shuttered.
One rural nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was common for GPs and doctors at hospitals to give women the "basics" of a DIY kit so they're not left in the lurch.
"It's intended as a last resort," she said.
"It is good to know that women have a standby if things start to happen earlier than intended.
"It's (kits) probably a lot more under the radar these days."
GP obstetrician John Hall, who has worked extensively in maternity across the Darling Downs, said he was aware of kits being distributed on a case-by-case basis at Dalby Hospital.
"This whole issue of people birthing on the side of the road, needing these kits is only going to get worse if the government don't commit to keeping these services open and right now we're in the situation where they're shutting Chinchilla," Dr Hall said.
"Just having a kit where she can clamp and cut off the cord, is not going to save the baby's life if she has a major complication, it's not going to save her if she has a major bleeding complication," he said.
"One of the problems with rural birthing, is if you don't have a maternity unit close to you, then you have to move after 36 weeks, they recommend that you move and stay somewhere close to birth," Dr Hall said.
"They're given a very basic kit so that they can clamp off the cord and cut the cord, it's pretty much just got that an a few wraps and towels in it."
The Sunday Mail revealed last month the Chinchilla maternity unit was closing.
Darling Downs Health chief executive Peter Gillies said if birth kits were being provided but "is not common practice".
"If it has occurred, it would be very rare. For expectant mothers who have had fast, precipitous labours in the past, we do tailor care to ensure the safety of both mum and bub," Dr Gillies said.
"This could mean giving her options like induction of labour, or having mum stay close to the hospital during the last few weeks of pregnancy.
"This is the same practice as precipitous expectant mums in larger centres like Brisbane where travel may be required and past experience of the mum shows the baby comes quickly."
The State Government has since established the Rural Maternity Taskforce (RMT).
The RMT will hit the road this week to see up close the geographical nightmare that pregnant women face in Theodore, Roma, Mount Isa and Ingham due to obstetric unit closures.
Head of Australia's peak Maternity Consumer Network Alecia Staines told The Sunday Mail she feared the trip was a sham.
"Head of the taskforce Queensland Health deputy director-general John Wakefield told me directly that the 18-clinician team has simply been gathered to develop "guidelines" for Hospital and Health Service boards to follow before closing down any maternity units," she said.
However Dr Wakefield denied her claims.
"I have not formally met Ms Staines to discuss the taskforce but I can assure her we are not developing guidelines for the purpose of managing the closure of maternity units in the future," he said.
Ms Staines, who is on the expert advisory group for the National Strategic Approach to Maternity Services; the National Perinatal Data Collection committee; the Medicare review of private midwifery items and who sits on local hospital maternity committees, said she'd warned communities the taskforce operation was "smoke and mirrors".
"How are new guidelines going to help the many women in remote and rural areas who are already struggling with a lack of services?"
However Health Minister Steven Miles slammed this suggestion and said he had stated all along the taskforce would not make changes to local maternity services and "those decisions will continue to be made by the relevant Hospital and Health Service Board".
"It is incorrect and irresponsible to suggest that any guidelines will be designed to manage the closure of any maternity units in the future," he said.
"The Rural Maternity Taskforce will deliver guidance to help regional hospitals support rural maternity services, with a focus on safety and sustainability."
No choice but to leave hubby at home
MOTHER Julie Priebbenow, 24, lives in Taroom - which has become ground zero for the maternity crisis gripping rural Queensland.
When she reached the nine-month mark of her first pregnancy with son Henry in 2015, she was faced with having to risk a roadside delivery or leave home after her nearest maternity ward in Theodore was closed.
"Theodore had shut and it was my first baby," she said.
Instead, she was forced to leave her husband on their property and move into Toowoomba to give birth.
Mrs Priebbenow was not only heeding her doctor's advice; she knew staying at home carried a great risk.
"One of my friends, she's had four, and she did have a couple of complications and she had to be flown out at one point," she said.
"It made it really difficult for her husband to look after the other two at the time and I think they had to get his or her parents out to help them.
"It would've been much easier had they had somewhere closer to go to."
Mrs Priebbenow said she and other mothers in Taroom were often making difficult choices about their health.
"Coming up to the end, we're supposed to have weekly check-ups and so I had to either travel once a week or space them out a bit further," she said.
Mrs Priebbenow said women in remote communities had to contend with obstacles greater than in the city.
"By providing us with more experienced people and better facilities, we wouldn't have to travel so far from home for such a long period of time," she said.