MATERNITY CRISIS: Hospital facing a serious midwife shortage
EXPECTANT mums say they can't get appointments with midwives at Townsville Hospital due to a chronic shortage.
Letters have also been sent to mums-to-be saying they will get an appointment within 365 days.
The hospital claims these letters were a "clear clerical error" given the average gestation period is 280 days. But stressed families say they are being told the Midwifery Group Practice is full.
The Queensland Nurses and Midwifery Union says there is a shortage of midwives across the state and it was particularly challenging to find staff in North Queensland.
Milena Maia Souza has been trying to get into the Midwifery Group Practice since her initial appointment with her GP at seven weeks. She is now 37 weeks pregnant and resigned to the fact she has missed out on having a devoted midwife.
"I knew that I couldn't get to the birthing centre because I was high risk, so my GP sent a referral. I've called the group many times and they just said I can leave my name on the waiting list, but every time they said 'we're still full'," she said. "What's going on that only a certain part of the population can have access when it's meant to be for everyone?"
Women have a choice of three models of care through the public health system in Townsville, depending on their medical needs.
The birth centre and the Midwifery Group Practice have limited spots due to the one-on-one care provided, whereas the midwife care clinic provides mothers with access to care through rotating midwives or doctors.
Maia Souza said although she could not fault the clinical care she had been given for her high-risk pregnancy, not having a single person to guide her through her pregnancy had caused angst.
"You don't get to have that trust and get to know your doctor, and understand each other to help feel less scared about it all," she said. "I just feel it's such a shame because there are good people who work there and it's not their fault; they're just doing the best they can but it seems there aren't enough of them."
Soon-to-be mother-of-three Sarah Sorensen gave birth to her first child at the hospital in 2015 and said she had noticed wait times rising over the years.
"I'm now 24 weeks (pregnant) but I called at seven weeks and they were fully booked out. Then I got a letter in the mail saying it would take anywhere up until I'm 36 weeks to get me in the group and (they) just advised to keep seeing my regular GP," she said.
"I think they should get people in quicker just so you can get a relationship with the midwives so you feel safe and happy with the midwife, and you're on the same page. Four weeks is not long enough to build that."
A Townsville Hospital spokeswoman told the Townsville Bulletin that a letter telling women they could have an appointment within 365 days was a "clear clerical error" and urged people to contact the hospital directly, despite the woman being told over the phone when she questioned the letter that it was a "generic letter" and nothing to be "alarmed" about.
Townsville Hospital and Health Service acting health and wellbeing service group director Katrina Roberts said every woman could be guaranteed antenatal care.
"Wait times for the midwifery group practice and birth centre vary and change from week to week as women are added and removed from the list," she said.
"Women engaged with the birth centre must have a low-risk pregnancy and if anything changes during the pregnancy they may be referred to another model of care."
Ms Roberts said four new midwives were assigned to the midwifery group practice in June, making the total 22.
"These midwives have taken on 160 extra local women through this model of care," she said.
The hospital did not provide an answer as to how long it took for a mother to be accepted to the birth centre or midwifery group.
Union regional organiser Nicola de Jongh said trying to recruit midwives to Townsville was tough.
"There's not enough midwives Australia wide, let alone in Queensland, and trying to recruit to Townsville is even harder. We still have a couple of positions vacant here," she said.
"There's not enough (Midwifery Group Practice) teams but the hospital is trying to increase them from four teams to 10, but this is a long-term goal."
Kiersten Sim, 35 weeks pregnant
Kiersten Sim, now 35 weeks pregnant, said she opted for a James Cook University student midwife early in her pregnancy out of fear she wouldn't have a regular person to support her as a first-time mum.
"I didn't like my chances of getting into the Midwifery Group Practice and I didn't want to chop and change midwives all the time," Miss Sim said.
"The reason I got a student midwife was because I wasn't really sure what was going on with my appointments and pregnancy, because the hospital said they couldn't get me until around six months because of the floods pushing everything back and they had a long wait list.
"They did eventually call me at around 28 weeks and said they had a spot."
Madisson Jackson, 20 weeks pregnant
Madisson Jackson, who is now 20 weeks pregnant with her second child, has been assigned to the birth centre again after a great midwife experience.
She hopes this time she can see her care through to birth.
During the birth of her first son she was moved to the hospital birthing suites to deliver her baby because of room shortages.
"I was disappointed for a little while, because I didn't get the water birth I wanted. I was just happy to go home and get away from it all," Ms Jackson said.
"The Townsville Hospital was not what I expected. There were just a lot more people in the room and I got moved around a lot, whereas in the birthing centre you get a private room and it's much more family based."