The Queensland state government is again under fire from rural mothers who say progress to upgrade maternity services has become stagnant, forcing them to reconsider having children in their home towns.
Queensland's Federal member for Warrego MP Ann Leahy said maternity services in rural areas have actually gone backwards in recent years despite pleas from the public for better care.
"The Palaszczuk Labor Government has a record of shutting down maternity services in the bush," she said.
"Since 2001 they have closed maternity services in 26 rural and regional communities, including Chinchilla."
Ms Leahy said that she had received complaints from numerous expectant mothers in the Chinchilla, Qld, area who were concerned about the maternity suits in the Chinchilla, Qld, hospital being reverted to a COVID-19 ward, meaning they had to travel to Dalby, Qld, for the birth of their child.
This undoubtedly caused a lot of angst for the women affected, particularly after an incident earlier this year where a Chinchilla, Qld, mother did not make the 81 kilometre trip to the Dalby, Qld, hospital and was forced to give birth on the side of the Warrego Highway.
Another young mother affected by the lack of maternity services in Chinchilla, Qld, is Bryna Thompson, who gave birth to her third baby three weeks ago.
After complications with her first two births, Ms Thompson was concerned that she would experience issues during her labour, particularly considering the hour-long drive to the Dalby, Qld, hospital which she may have had to do alone as her partner works away.
Ms Thompson and her midwife expressed their concerns to the obstetricians at the Dalby Hospital and requested that she be induced to avoid the need to drive herself from Chinchilla, but her request was refused without explanation.
"It was my third baby, so I was quite concerned about going into labour and not making it to Dalby hospital because my first labour was three hours and my second labour was two hours," she said.
"My midwife was super supportive of me being induced early around the 38 week mark, because I had tears with both my first and second baby and also a massive postpartum haemorrhage, so me giving birth on the highway was a less than ideal scenario.
"The doctor did not care and he just straight up said no.
"I knew that if I went into labour here, I would have to present to Chinchilla hospital because, as my partner works away, there was no way I was going to drive myself to Dalby hospital."
After contacting the Darling Downs Health consumer liaison to voice her concerns, doctors at the Dalby hospital apologised to Ms Thompson and agreed to induce her, but she went into spontaneous labour the day before the scheduled induction.
Luckily for both mother and baby, Ms Thompson's partner was at home due to the Anzac Day public holiday and was able to drive her to the Dalby, Qld, and with her labour lasting just two hours, half of it was spent in the car.
"I had a haemorrhage and a tear, and I needed immediate medical care after he was born, so had my partner not been here, I would have not been in great shape and potentially my baby may also have not been in great shape," Ms Thompson said.
"I told them that I was going to go into labor between 38 and 39 weeks and they just flat out refused to listen to me, but shock horror, I was right.
"I just think it's a joke. I really think that the regional hospitals like Chinchilla and Dalby have awful facilities and they don't listen to women who live hours away from the hospital. They just don't take your concerns seriously."
The lack of services is so worrying that women are reconsidering their choice to have children, or deciding to travel to bigger hospitals, regardless of the cost.
"I know lots of women out here who want to have more children, but also don't want to have more children because they don't want to have to deal with Dalby hospital," Ms Thompson said.
"My sister in law who lives across the road from me in Chinchilla is paying around $10,000 to go and birth privately in Toowoomba, because she doesn't want to deal with Dalby hospital, so I think that says something about how bad the care is.
"I just don't want other women to be treated the way that I was treated."
Ms Thompson, like many other women in the Chinchilla district, are also baffled by the fact that they cannot give birth at their local hospital, despite there being midwives and birthing suites at the premises.
Queensland Country Life contacted Queensland Health for comment on the complaints referring to the closing down of the maternity wards at the Chinchilla hospital and a spokesperson insisted that "Darling Downs Health is committed to safe, accessible maternity services for all Queensland mothers and babies."
"It's important to note that the challenges facing a number of rural maternity services relate to the recruitment of appropriately qualified health practitioners. This is a national issue that is being addressed through a number of recruitment measures.
"The maternity assessment room for the Midwifery Group has not been converted to a full-time COVID-19 ward. The Midwifery Group Practice uses the maternity assessment room for consultations with mums and families.
"Following the Maternity Taskforce Report, a Midwifery Group Practice was established in Chinchilla in September 2019 providing antenatal and postnatal care.
"A known Darling Downs Health midwife travels with the woman to Dalby for the birth and provides support for postnatal care either in the family's home or at their nearest facility.
"Darling Downs Health has received positive feedback from birthing women that they are happy with how care is provided, and the current model of a known midwife.
"Darling Downs Health has also commenced a comprehensive review of maternity services for women living in the Chinchilla Hospital catchment area which is forecast for completion in the second quarter of 2022.
"This review has included one-on-one consultations and online surveys with local families and other maternity stakeholders including staff at the hospital."
A Queensland Health spokesperson confirmed the department is looking at starting another Rural Maternity Taskforce, further to those already completed in previous years.
MP Ann Leahy said that the public do not want another review, rather they wish to see some actual results from the previous taskforce in their local hospitals.
Ms Leahy contacted the Minister for Health and Ambulance services for clarification on when the Chinchilla hospital maternity services would be restored, and was told the that the "Darling Downs Hospital and Health Service has commenced a comprehensive review of maternity services for women living in the Chinchilla Hospital catchment area which is forecast for completion in the second quarter of 2022".
"We have already had the Rural Maternity Taskforce report completed in 2019 gathering dust in the Minister's desk and here is another review," Ms Leahy said.
"Mum's don't want another review wasting taxpayer dollars - they want investment in regional hospitals staffed with doctors, anaesthetists, midwifes and nurses to get these maternity wards that were made into COVID wards and offices re opened, so babies are not born on the side of the road."
When asked by Queensland Country Life what had come of previous reviews, a Queensland Health spokesperson responded saying that "all recommendations made by the Rural Maternity Taskforce have been implemented".
They listed various achievements of the taskforce including the establishment of the Office of Rural and Remote Health and the Rural and Remote Health Advisory Committee (RRHAC), development of the Rural and Remote Health and Wellbeing Strategy 2021-2026, and developing, piloting and publishing the Queensland Rural and Remote Maternity Services Planning Framework (Planning Framework).
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