16 Mar 2018

Southland parents fight to save Lumsden birth centre

8:20 am on 16 March 2018

Parents around northern Southland are vowing to fight a plan to close a baby birthing centre in Lumsden.

Pregnant woman sitting on a bench.

Pregnant woman sitting on a bench. Photo: 123RF

The Southern District Health Board last week proposed to downgrade the Lumsden Maternity Centre to a support hub, and create new hubs in Te Anau and Wanaka, because of shifting birth patterns and demographics.

A petition against the DHB's plan has already gathered 2500 signatures.

A protest has also been organised for Saturday to march down the main street, while a public meeting is being run next week.

The government is already under fire for a midwives shortage, but now it's facing a fight with Southern mums.

There has been a swift backlash from parents in northern Southland, who would have to travel at least another 30 minutes to give birth in Winton, or Invercargill, or Gore.

They fear many more births will have to happen on the side of the road as women don't make the long drive.

Te Anau mother Helen McFelin said just because women lived in a rural area should not mean they got third world services.

"We've got a prime minister who is due to give birth and that's wonderful ... but that's fine if you live in a city and can access care in 20 minutes," Ms McFelin said.

"You try giving birth in a car, and having to labour for an hour and a half and if something goes wrong, that's just terrifying, isn't it?" she said.

'The numbers that present in Lumsden are just not enough'

Southern DHB chief executive Chris Fleming said he knew the plan had prompted strong feelings but he believed the facts supported the proposal.

About 70 percent of women from Te Anau are already going to places other than Lumsden to give birth, so there were just not enough births there to sustain it, Mr Fleming said.

"The numbers that present in Lumsden are just not enough at the moment," he said.

It was not just about the money, but about fairness and equity in the health system across the district, he said.

The birthing centre gets rave reviews from the families that use it. As well as a birthing room, the Lumsden centre has ante-natal rooms with double beds, en-suite bathrooms and cooked meals.

The chairwoman of the trust which runs the Lumsden Maternity Centre, Carrie Adams, said it had been running on a shoe-string budget for a long time and asked the DHB what Lumsden's future was.

"We got our answer and we don't like it," said Ms Adams.

The trust, the Northern Southland Health Company, was determined to challenge the decision, she said.

"We're never going to see the numbers that you see at an urban unit, so we are never going to achieve economies of scale," she said.

"But it's completely unacceptable to compromise safety on the basis we may not have as many people here as in an urban area."

Three local MPs are already backing Lumsden's campaign: New Zealand First's Mark Paterson, Labour's Liz Craig and National's Hamish Walker.

The just-retired MP Bill English was born there, as was eight of his siblings, Mr Walker said.

"There's a huge connection to this hospital to a lot of mothers, to a lot of children, to a lot of grandmothers"

"If this is lost, it will be a huge hit to a rural community," he said.

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