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Byron Shire
November 30, 2022

CWA push for improved maternity services

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The W in CWA stands for Women and the CWA have been standing up for women yet again during their recent webinar and annual Awareness Week campaign.

The CWA says there is not enough importance placed on women’s safety and wellbeing in rural communities. Their 2022 campaign highlights the urgent need for improved maternity services and support across rural and regional NSW.

This year’s focus followed several motions put to this year’s State Conference in May around the need for urgent improvements to maternity care and support in non-metropolitan communities around the state – and similar branch motions in the past few years – and the release of a damning report the same month on the state of health care in rural, remote and regional NSW.

This followed a lengthy parliamentary inquiry into the issue.

Focus on the availability and access

President of the CWA of NSW, Joy Beames, said the CWA chose to focus on the availability of, and access to maternity services for the Awareness Week campaign this year because it’s a basic need for women and their families. ‘The fact that the situation is currently so dire in many areas is just not good enough.

Ms Beames said it was pleasing last week to hear the NSW Government’s response to the health inquiry’s report, the Government supporting, or supporting in principle, 41 of the 44 recommendations, including two around maternity services, and the challenge now was making a start on actions to back up that commitment.

A promising start

‘This is a promising start to finally addressing the critical situation facing rural and regional NSW communities, and we will be watching closely the next steps when it comes to meaningful actions around the support the Government has indicated for so many of the recommendations that came out of the inquiry,.

‘Obviously, some of the factors impacting the health system currently cannot be fixed overnight, like staffing levels, but we would at least like to see consideration for, and implementation of, strategies and initiatives that will lead to improved outlooks in the near future, as well as a greater share of resources for communities who should not have to accept second-rate healthcare outcomes.’

What does quality maternity care look like?

This year’s Awareness Week included a webinar for CWA members and interested community members that featured a panel comprising health advocates, academics and healthcare professionals, specialising in maternity health, who addressed the question: What does quality maternity care look like in regional NSW?

The CWA of NSW’s partners for the 2022 campaign, the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association and the Gidget Foundation Australia, were represented.

Ms Beames said the over-riding message from all panellists was for the need to address three key areas: access, choice and continuity of care for pregnant women and new mothers.

Other points included critical staffing shortages; maternity unit staffing ratios; access to professional development for midwives; provision of affordable housing for healthcare staff in rural and regional communities; the need to support Indigenous women wanting to deliver on country; greater investment in non-metropolitan area hospitals to encourage more health practitioners; and existing models of maternity care that are resulting in positive outcomes for regional areas.

Not enough staff

Ms Beames said it’s important to acknowledge that all the panellists praised the efforts and commitment of health service staff in country areas. ‘The issue is there are not enough of them and they are chronically over-worked and under-supported.’

Availability of services is the other critical factor, with the webinar hearing that between 1995 and 2005 more than 50 per cent of maternity units closed their doors and that pregnant women in rural and regional areas were often forced to travel long distances for care and leave their homes for weeks at a time in order to actually give birth, or worse still, are having their babies – literally – on the side of the road.

‘One of our panellists was adamant the safety and wellbeing of rural and regional women is not being given the priority it needs and deserves. But what we also heard was that there are maternity service models in some smaller Australian communities – and in the likes of NZ – that are working really well and serving the needs of expectant and new mothers and their families.

It’s not a hopeless situation

Ms Beames said this shows it’s not a hopeless situation. ‘There are ways to address the current shortfalls and we need to be looking at how we can make these models work in more country locations.

‘The health and safety of NSW rural and regional women is at the heart of our association and we’ll continue our advocacy around this issue of maternity services and support for as long as it takes.’

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