A century of advocacy culminates in renewed push for urgent improvements to maternity services and support in the bush
A catalyst for the formation of the Country Women’s Association of NSW a century ago was the need for adequate maternal health services in the bush, and 100 years on the Association continues to advocate for expectant mothers and their families, with the critical issue the focus of this year’s annual Awareness Week campaign.
The 2022 campaign runs from September 4 to 10, highlighting the urgent need for improved maternity services and support across rural and regional NSW.
The issue was on the Association’s radar at its annual State Conference in Sydney in May, when a number of branch motions were put to members around the need for improved maternity services and care in rural and remote NSW, and for the establishment of a dedicated hotline to support women in rural areas to navigate available services.
On the final day of the conference, in the wake of the release of findings from a NSW parliamentary inquiry into rural and regional health, a motion of urgency was unanimously endorsed by members, calling for immediate action by state and federal governments to address the current crisis in the provision of primary medical services as a result of the lack of general practitioners and medical staffing in hospitals in rural NSW.
The Inquiry found the state’s rural health system was "in crisis and is failing residents of rural, regional and remote areas" with people living outside metropolitan centres having "significantly poorer health outcomes, greater incidents of chronic disease, and greater premature deaths".
One of the key recommendations from the Inquiry was around establishing a review of rural maternity services in the wake of the closure of dozens of hospital birthing units around the state, and often harrowing testimony from inquiry witnesses who shared their stories of giving birth without adequate support and facilities, or having to travel far from home to have their babies.
“In 2022, this is simply not good enough and is very disturbing for those living outside our major cities. Having a baby should be a wonderful time for parents and families, but instead we’re looking at a situation where mothers are having to endure stress and uncertainty, and even fear for their lives and the life of their baby,” said Joy Beames, President of the CWA of NSW.
“Our Association was founded on this basic need for the availability of safe and effective maternal and post-natal care, so 100 years on we’re committed to continuing this advocacy for women and families in rural, regional and remote areas of the state and pushing for real and meaningful change.”
This year, the CWA of NSW is partnering with the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association and the Gidget Foundation Australia, a not-for-profit organisation that provides programs to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents.
Michael Whaites, Assistant General Secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association, said the shortage of midwives in rural and regional NSW was of serious concern, as was the lack of meaningful solutions by government to address the ongoing issues.
“Continuity of care provided by midwives to mothers and their babies is paramount. We are aware experienced midwives are resigning or reducing their hours due to burnout from unreasonable workloads, which has led to poor skill-mix issues and unsafe conditions. Midwives want to deliver safe care in their communities and to do that we need a minimum ratio of one midwife to three mothers on postnatal wards and improvements to midwifery staffing across NSW,” he said.
With a mission to support the emotional wellbeing of expectant and new parents to ensure they receive timely, appropriate and specialist care, Gidget Foundation Australia CEO Arabella Gibson said this year’s Awareness Week campaign couldn’t come at a better time to highlight the concerns around maternal health care in rural and regional NSW.
“The impact of COVID-19 on an already stretched system has certainly exacerbated existing issues. Since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak in March 2020, the Gidget Foundation has experienced a 127% surge in demand for our free psychological counselling services, an indication of the urgent need for mental health support for expectant and new parents and its importance when it comes to improvements to maternity services as a whole in country NSW,” Arabella said.
The CWA of NSW is also holding a webinar during Awareness Week on the question of: ‘What does quality maternity care look like in regional NSW?’ The webinar will include a panel discussion featuring health professionals, academics, consumer advocates and CWA members, with the intention of highlighting the issues, but more importantly, a potential pathway towards improved services and support.
During this year’s campaign, the Association will be calling for:
- A review of rural and regional maternity and antenatal services by the NSW Government, in line with the recommendations within the NSW parliamentary inquiry report;
- The inclusion in this review of consideration for the reinstatement of rural and regional hospital birthing units in areas where they’ve been closed;
- Initiatives that boost the number of maternity health professionals in country NSW; and
- A more equitable distribution of resources that reflects the demand for maternity services in remote, rural and regional NSW communities.
Joy said some NSW CWA branches were already involved with supporting improvements to maternal health services, and during Awareness Week branches across the state would be working within their own communities to raise awareness around the urgency of the issue.
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