Review into birthing halt at regional hospital

Midwives are urgently being recruited to restart Whyalla’s birthing services as Health Minister Chris Picton today announces even more nurses will be needed in the state’s health system – this time to work in GP offices.

Jun 30, 2023, updated Jun 30, 2023
Premier Peter Malinauskas meeting baby Daisy at Kangaroo Island Hospital last week where birthing services have resumed. Photo: Belinda Willis/InDaily

Premier Peter Malinauskas meeting baby Daisy at Kangaroo Island Hospital last week where birthing services have resumed. Photo: Belinda Willis/InDaily

News of the Whyalla birthing service being halted emerged on Monday with the government blaming a critical midwifery workforce shortage. Just last week Picton was at the Kangaroo Island hospital where a birthing service has only just restarted after it struggled to fill positions.

Today, he said an external reviewer will examine how to re-establish birthing services at Whyalla “as soon as possible” where expectant mothers are now being forced to travel long distances to alternative hospitals.

On Kangaroo Island, mothers were having to travel by ferry to other hospitals including in Victor Harbor at 35 weeks into their pregnancies.

“It is important that birthing services are reinstated at Whyalla as soon as possible so that women can give birth safely close to home,” Picton said today, adding the review will include speaking to current staff and those who have left the service in previous years.

“There are clearly midwives in the community who used to work there who wanted to leave, it’s important to speak to them about what it was that made them take the decision to leave.”

Giles MP Eddie Hughes said it was disappointing birthing services were suspended.

“Women in my local community deserve to be able to give birth in a hospital close to home and I want birthing services to resume at Whyalla quickly,” he said.

Picton also said today that a chunk of the $10.08 million promised to South Australia in last October’s Federal Budget to pilot a new model of primary care will be used to keep more sick people out of hospitals using more nurses at local GP surgeries.

SA Health is spending $2.6 million of the funding on getting more nurse practitioners – experienced registered nurses with an additional Master’s degree – into GP practices to work with doctors and other specialists to treat health conditions.

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Picton said today consultation is now underway to create the free service that will focus on areas with social disadvantage and poor access to GPs with hopes it will lead to GP services offering more out of hours appointments.

He said many GPs already employed practice nurses to provide services like immunisations but this would provide practitioners with a greater ability to support more patients. He was unable to give specific numbers at this stage.

“Access to more services, connecting people to appropriate care where and when they need it, will alleviate some of that pressure form emergency departments,” Picton said.

“In SA at the moment it’s very hard to see a doctor in the short term … this leads to people thinking the only choice they have is to go to an emergency department.”

Another $7.5 million is being spent on two services helping take more patients with non-life-threatening illnesses and injuries away from emergency departments.

One is a new navigation tool to connect patients with care services – plus a GP Medical Escalation Service to provide more GP telehealth services similar to a program being successfully trialled in New South Wales.

Alice Pfizner is training to be a nurse practitioner and is working at a Hindmarsh primary care service that takes overflow from nearby hospital emergency services, where she deals with issues like “lots of lacerations of fingers” or “older people falling” that require casts or splints.

“I have been a nurse for 16 years and I wanted to give more back in the hospital sector, my background is in emergency services so I know the difference a service like this makes,” she said, adding that patients can be referred to her serviced by GPs or ambulance services.

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