The state government’s shock decision to close Murwillumbah Hospital’s popular birthing unit last week sparked a heated debate in state parliament yesterday, as well as an angry protest rally outside the hospital at which the local mayor slammed coalition ministers for ‘hiding behind faceless bureaucrats’ to justify their controversial decision.
More than 100 people, including mums and mums-to-be from around the Tweed Valley, doctors, staff and local politicians were at the protest at which National Party MPs Thomas George (for the seat of Lismore, which takes in Murwillumbah) and Geoff Provest (Tweed) were called on to ask premier Mike Baird to stop the closure.
Tweed mayor Gary Bagnall said the government could stop the closure in an instant by hiring an outside obstetrician to keep the maternity ward going, in response to the local health district board saying the closure was the result of its failure to find a new doctor to support the midwives working at the unit.
Cr Bagnall accused the premier, his health minister Jillian Skinner, and the two local MPs of ‘hiding behind faceless bureaucrats’, saying it was ‘up to them to tell their staff to get an obstetrician into this hospital’.
State Labor also weighed into the debate this morning, saying premier Baird has ‘failed to support the young mums and babies protesting the closure’ of the birthing service.
In parliament yesterday, Mr Baird told MPs that Labor was taking a ‘populist’ stand in defending locals on the issue, while his government was ’trying to deliver the safest and best health service in the country’.
But Maroubra MP Michael Daly (Labor) hit back, saying he ‘would’ve thought that in Australia in this day and age, birthing services was a right not a populist decision’.
‘Generations of local families were born in this hospital and it can’t shut. We are not happy with the state government whittling away services at this hospital, blow by blow they keep going,’ he said.
The Tweed Greens’ Dawn Walker also attended the rally, and called on MPs Mr George and Mr Provest to reverse the decision, as ‘the closure of the unit would mean hardship for local women’ and provided ‘a first rate maternity service for the region’.
‘Many mothers have contacted me distressed about the closure,’ Ms Walker said.
‘One mother had all three of her children at the Murwillumbah Maternity and Birthing Unit and only just made it to the hospital in time for the birth of her babies.
‘She said she would never have made the 30km drive to Tweed Hospital in time.
‘Small rural maternity units are vital services for local regional women and should be supported not closed.
‘It is just plain wrong to cut costs by closing this service and putting mothers and babies at risk.
‘The closure is being blamed on the retirement of local birthing specialists at the end of May, with claims of difficulty attracting replacement medical professionals to the town.
‘However, the Northern NSW Local Health District has now initiated a review of the entire Maternity and Birthing Unit, which is an ominous sign for the long-term viability of the service.
‘I’m disappointed that less than two months after the state election, the Nationals are slashing services to our mums and babies – could you get a more vulnerable target for their cost cutting measures?
‘Regional communities like Murwillumbah and surrounding areas, deserve better,’ Ms Walker said
Labor MP Walt Secord said Mr Baird in parliament had ‘belittled the young mums and babies protesting the closure of Murwillumbah District Hospital’s birthing service, saying he supported the decision’.
‘When asked about his response to mothers rallying against the closure of Murwillumbah District Hospital’s birthing service in parliament, premier Mike Baird said keeping the birthing unit open would amount to “taking every populist decision under the sun”’, Mr Secord said.
‘Young mothers in and around Murwillumbah are now forced to travel more than 30 kilometres for treatment since the district hospital’s birthing service closed,’ Mr Secord said.
‘It’s simple – mothers need a place to give birth. This closure means women may be forced to give birth on the side of the road, with zero medical assistance.
‘But Mike Baird thinks keeping open a birthing unit in a public hospital is a “populist” idea – whereas Labor believes good health service is a right,’ Mr Secord said.
A community campaign to prevent the closure of the Murwillumbah Maternity and Birthing Unit has been launched. Members of the public can sign a petition online at: