Midwife shortage forces Launceston Birth Centre to close doors after 35 years

Updated February 11, 2019 15:10:41

A service which for 35 years has allowed Launceston women to give birth in home-like surroundings is set to close because it cannot recruit enough independent midwives to keep operating.

Key points:

  • The privately-funded centre allowed women to give birth outside the hospital system
  • Tasmanian women are upset options for home birthing will be reduced
  • A midwife organisation says Medicare and insurance conditions are “onerous”

The Launceston Birth Centre, across the road from the Launceston General Hospital, also provides midwives to help women give birth in their own homes.

The privately funded birth centre’s treasurer, Sarah Haberle, said it had unsuccessfully tried to secure a new independent midwife to run the service for the past three years.

“It’s quite a process and there’s not that many in Australia, we have just found it really hard to find someone,” Ms Haberle said.

“After exhausting our search through the Australian College of Midwives and through our Facebook page for an endorsed midwife, we have been unable to fill this position.”

Changes to insurance requirements has shrunk the pool of independent midwives practising in Australia.

Ms Haberle said the Launceston centre had a large clientele but could not operate without independent midwives, and would have to close in the coming months.

“We don’t have any money coming in to be able to support the centre and pay rent and power … and after three years it’s unfortunately got to that point where, you know, how can you go on any more?” she said.

Ms Haberle said the closure would reduce the options for mothers in Tasmania’s north.

“[When] you’re pregnant and you’re presented with a range of different birth choices depending on your eligibility for that … with this choice gone, what is there left?”

Women, families dismayed

The impending closure provoked a flood of dismay from women who used the centre.

Amanda Caletti, who had babies there in 2014 and 2015, said she was devastated.

“I’m not really upset for me because I’ve had my time there and I’m utterly thankful, [but] I’m bitterly disappointed for all the parents in the north of the state that have lost a really amazing choice,” Ms Caletti said.

Melanie Davy from Hadspen gave birth at home twice with help from the centre’s midwives, and lamented the reduction of birth options.

“We should have full control over our birth and how we want to do it,” she said.

“I’m disgusted for Launceston and everybody who may want to use the service in the future, I’m just shocked.”

Anita Morgan gave birth at the centre five times and also used its midwives for two home births.

“I have just found them to be absolutely wonderful and I really think it’s an important and invaluable choice for women to have,” she said.

Midwife indemnity ‘onerous’

The Australian College of Midwives worked with the centre to try to recruit a new independent midwife.

The college’s professional practice unit manager, Hilary Rorison, said onerous requirements for gaining Medicare endorsement and professional indemnity insurance discouraged midwives from practising independently.

“There’s quite a few barriers to privately practising midwives in general, whether they’re in a more remote area or not,” she said.

“Then you’ve got the compounded factor of having an area like Tasmania where there isn’t such a big pool of midwives as well.”

While midwives employed by hospitals and other organisations automatically get professional indemnity insurance, independent midwives must pay for the insurance themselves or they can be subject to action by the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia (NMBA), and insurers will not cover home births.

Since 2010, independent midwives have been able to access Medicare rebates, but to gain the necessary endorsement they must complete 5,000 hours of work, do a prescribing course and undergo a peer review.

“I’d certainly say there’s a shortage and we’ve certainly seen a drop in the number of midwives working in that space since endorsement has come in, with midwives knowing they have to jump through those hoops,” said Ms Rorison.

The centre plans to launch a new online community on Facebook to help northern Tasmanian families connect with birthing options.

Topics: babies, family-and-children, community-and-society, reproduction-and-contraception, health, launceston-7250, hobart-7000, tas

First posted February 11, 2019 14:14:59

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