Hospital struggles with surge in births

Pregnant mothers have had appointments for induced births delayed at Wellington Hospital, which is struggling with an “exceptional” number of babies.

Some mothers booked in to have births induced have been put off, delivery suites have been used by postnatal mothers, and a recovery room has been used for labour in the past fortnight.  But Capital & Coast District Health Board says patient safety has not been compromised.

The board’s clinical director for women’s health services, John Tait, said the hospital’s maternity ward had been at or near capacity for a fortnight and had contingency plans to send premature babies to other centres such as Christchurch or Auckland if things worsened.

The College of Midwives’ Wellington chairwoman, Kath Boyle, said there was an “exceptional” spike in births last week, but the hospital and staff had managed well.

Although midwives have anonymously expressed concern to The Dominion Post about dangers associated with workload and delayed inductions, Ms Boyle said none had contacted her about recent issues.

Wellington’s birthrate was declining and there had been no need for Wellington Hospital to add more postnatal beds as part of its $285 million new hospital, completed in 2008. It had 24 postnatal beds, the same as the old hospital.

But a midwife said patient safety was at risk because of exhausted staff, and that delays in induced births increased the risk of stillborn births. Wellington midwives have called for the establishment of a birthing unit – where mothers could move within hours of giving birth and still be cared for, while taking pressure off postnatal beds.

Dr Tait said that, even if the hospital increased postnatal beds or if a birthing unit was built, there would be a staffing problem. “In an ideal world you would have an unlimited health budget and you could afford this sort of thing.”

Health board midwifery associate director Robyn Maude said only “two to three” births had been delayed for one to two days last week.

Most of the delayed inductions were “the ones with no significant clinical reason to do it immediately”.

Inductions were carried out either when the mother’s or baby’s life was at risk, or when pregnancies went 10 days past their due date. However, they usually started to become crucial 14 days after the due date.  Ms Maude said “modelling” had shown that 24 postnatal beds was enough in the new hospital.

Ian Page, of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said inductions were an elective procedure and patients had no rights to have them done when scheduled.
Last year, the Government gave maternity services an extra $38.5 million over four years for women to stay longer in maternity wards.

This followed a controversy generated when Capital & Coast offered $100 grocery vouchers to mothers discharged within six hours of giving birth.

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