Rebecca Gosling had a “perfect” plan for the birth of her second child but a staff shortage at her regional hospital, weeks before her due date, has seen it all come undone.
Living in the tiny town of Poochera, on South Australia’s Eyre Highway, she had planned to have her baby in Ceduna — with family nearby to care for her two-year old daughter.
Now Ceduna Hospital has suspended birthing services until the end of January 2020, telling pregnant patients to make other arrangements.
“The stress has sort of dampened the excitement,” Ms Gosling said.
“Having to book into a new hospital, having to book into a new doctor, having to find accommodation … all of a sudden it’s going to cost me money, whereas our plan originally was perfect.
“I had everything worked out.”
The hospital is referring patients to Adelaide, Port Augusta or, in Ms Gosling’s case, Port Lincoln.
For her, it means a three hour drive — twice as far as to Ceduna — as well as a new doctor and a two-week stay in town in case the baby arrives early.
“I’ve had to organise babysitting in Lincoln whereas before it was going to be easy; we were going to leave [daughter] Mckenna in Streaky Bay with family,” Ms Gosling said.
“We don’t have any friends or family down in Port Lincoln so we don’t have the ability to just stay with someone.
“I’ve got so many things to organise and so many things to get in line before it comes that I am sort of forgetting that I am about to have a baby.”
Driving to Port Augusta from Ceduna takes around five hours, while Adelaide is an eight-hour drive away.
Roadside births ‘worst possible’ scenario
SA’s Rural Doctors Association vice-president and Wudinna GP Scott Lewis said the extra travel was a safety risk to mothers and babies.
“The massive risk with this is that somebody in a panic in the middle of the night decides to drive to Port Lincoln when they go into labour,” Dr Lewis said.
“There is the distinct potential to end up with babies being delivered on the side of the road.
“We don’t have paramedic-staffed ambulance services so if you call an ambulance in our area, it’s going to be volunteers coming out who aren’t trained [to deliver babies].
“Really, the roadside is the worst possible place you could think of trying to have a baby.”
The Ceduna Hospital is aware of six planned births between now and the end of January, but Dr Lewis is also concerned for travellers and the region’s transient Indigenous population.
“Particularly through our summer months, we do see a lot of the Indigenous population come off the lands and relocate to areas such as Ceduna,” he said.
“Through the Christmas and New Year period there’s a lot of traffic up and across the Nullarbor Plain.
“It’s extremely important that we do have a service out there to also cater for those unplanned and unknown circumstances that can arise.”
Ceduna resident Alex Praino and his pregnant wife have travelled to Adelaide two weeks early to ensure they are close to a hospital that can accommodate them.
He has arranged to work remotely but is concerned for others who do not have that option.
“People have got partners that are [working] in harvest and that sort of stuff, running their own businesses … which makes it really difficult to duck away [for] nine hours to Adelaide or your nearest hospital to have a baby,” Mr Praino said.
Rural doctor shortage takes toll
To deliver babies, the Ceduna Hospital needs a GP obstetrician, an anaesthetist, and a round-the-clock roster of midwives and operating theatre staff.
Since the resident obstetrician left in August, it has relied on locums from Adelaide and interstate.
Nursing director Andrew Lane said the hospital was struggling to fill gaps in the roster — an issue facing regional health services around the country.
“We just don’t want to put women at risk and at the moment; we don’t have enough doctors, midwives, and nurses to offer a safe birthing service,” Mr Lane said.
“Even though birthing services are suspended, we’re still trying to have GP locums on site so that they can deal with any emergency or any women that might present.
“We’re working really hard with mums that were scheduled to birth in Ceduna to make sure they’re really clear about the importance of going to an alternative birthing site early on.”
A spokesperson for the Eyre and Far North Local Health Network said it was also working closely with Medstar and the Royal Flying Doctor Service to cater for emergencies.
Mr Lane said the hospital wanted to build a sustainable birthing service, but could not guarantee it would return after January.
“What I can guarantee is that as soon as we know what’s happening at the end of January, women will be the first to know,” he said.
Topics: womens-health, pregnancy-and-childbirth, regional, family-and-children, babies, healthcare-facilities, rural-women, people, health, community-and-society, human-interest, ceduna-5690, sa, port-augusta-5700, wudinna-5652, port-lincoln-5606, adelaide-5000
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