Qld bid to keep clinicians in the bush

Some women in remote Queensland have been forced to travel long distances to give birth.
Some women in remote Queensland have been forced to travel long distances to give birth.

Midwives and doctors working in some of the most faraway corners of Queensland will be rotated through bigger hospitals in a bid to maintain their skills and keep them happy in the bush.

The state government has for years struggled to hire clinicians to work in rural and remote facilities and to keep them there.

It will trial sending clinicians from the bush to metropolitan and even interstate hospitals for short periods to try to keep skilled professionals in regional areas and prevent further declines in rural obstetrics.

The measure is among changes being introduced following a review of rural maternity services made public on Wednesday.

It found the rate of stillbirth and newborn deaths was 1.7 times higher in very remote parts of Queensland compared to inner and outer regional areas.

Birthing services significantly declined across Queensland between 1996 and 2005, with a majority of the losses in rural and remote areas, along with further declines in recent years.

The number of babies being born before reaching a hospital has more than doubled since 2000, and is a problem particularly for women living between one and two hours from a maternity ward.

"This suggests that the centralisation of rural maternity services may be contributing to more unintended home births or births by the roadside due to the longer distances women have to travel to birth," the report says.

It means women and their unborn children are being put at further risk.

One of the challenges for health services is offering services in towns where there is a very low number of births, it's very hard for them to keep their skills current, Health Minister Steven Miles says.

"We want to attract more staff to regional areas, and if this helps - even better."

It found health services had not considered the impact on mothers when deciding to close maternity wards in the past.

"Our hospital started delivering babies again a few years ago," one woman told the review team.

"Before that I had to travel to deliver. I was terrified of something happening on the highway. We stayed at friends on the lounges. And went back and forwards."

Ministerial approval will now be needed before services can be cut further, and health facilities will have two years to review what they offer as the government looks to improve and reopen some birthing centres.

"This won't mean health services can open birthing services everywhere, they will still need to consider safety, staffing and demand, but for the first time the preferences of mums to birth closer to home will be considered too," Mr Miles said.

Australian Associated Press