Midwives miss breaks amid staff shortage claims


MIDWIVES at Townsville Hospital are often working shifts "without a toilet break", according to their union.

But Townsville Hospital and Health Service has denied there is a staffing shortage.

Since the Bulletin reported the concerns of mums-to-be who were unable to access the Midwifery Group Practice and birth centre, the hospital has insisted it has adequate midwife numbers.

At a press conference yesterday CEO Kieran Keyes said the hospital's two one-on-one models of care were "highly sought-after" but refused to provide an expected wait time.

"We don't consider it that we have a waiting list, basically we're caring for women as they're having their babies throughout their pregnancies," he said.

"The birth centre is highly sought-after, a lot of mums want to deliver in a more family-orientated style of care and we certainly aim to do that and generally do in most cases but there will be from time to time limits on our ability to access care there."

Townsville Hospital chief executive Kieran Keyes denied there was a midwife shortage at the hospital. Picture: Shae Beplate.
Townsville Hospital chief executive Kieran Keyes denied there was a midwife shortage at the hospital. Picture: Shae Beplate.


However, the Queensland Nurses and Midwifery Union accused hospital management of being out of touch.

Regional organiser ­Nicola de Jongh said the Townsville Hospital management was not appreciating the immense workloads its midwives were under.

"They (midwives) work exceedingly hard and often don't even take breaks. They're always putting the mothers first and are so emotionally invested in their care they don't even have toilet breaks in their shifts half the time," she said.

"The midwives working in the community and in those teams would disagree with what the hospital has said, the midwives working on the coal face would outright disagree - they do need more midwives."

The union representative said a meeting held with maternity management staff last month confirmed a plan to increase the number of Midwifery Group Practice teams.

"We understand it's a balancing act with government funding available," Ms de Jongh said.

Midwifery Unit manager Sari Holland said there were benefits for having one midwife for the duration of a pregnancy.

"We know that it's the best model of care and the evidence tells us that. It's a very demanding role that our midwives perform with their case load, they're on call 24 hours," she said. "It would be nice to have more but I think we certainly have enough midwives at the Townsville Hospital."

Ms Holland was unable to say how many pregnant women were on a wait list to access care through the Midwifery Group Practice or birth centre.

"I don't have access to those numbers, sorry," she said.

"There's waiting lists all the time for those models of care and depending on the number of women on any given month would be high or low."

Ms Holland rejected the union's claims there was a midwife shortage or vacant positions waiting to be filled at the hospital, despite the midwife care unit recently undertaking interviews.

Ms Holland said all expectant mothers could be guaranteed maternity care at the Townsville Hospital.

Six midwives joined Townsville Hospital’s team in June.
Six midwives joined Townsville Hospital’s team in June.

In June, Townsville Hospital added another six midwives to its staff, with two of those going to the Midwifery Group Practice, raising the program's staffing to 12 positions.

The hospital estimates 2500 babies are born every year with 1000 of those through its more personalised programs.

"We've got 133 midwife positions all fully funded here at the Townsville Hospital and we deliver care to a range of women in accessing services in our birth centre and we also support care in partnership with obstetricians and shared care with our general practitioners in our community," Mr Keyes said.

"One thing we don't have control over is when that demand peaks and troughs over the course of any given year - we're absolutely meeting that demand."

The Townsville Hospital has a reputation for providing some of the best quality of maternity care in the state. As reported on Saturday, letters were sent to mums-to-be saying they would get an appointment within 365 days - which hospital CEO Kieran Keyes admitted was "human error".

Mr Keyes said after going through hospital records, only two letters regarding wait times of up to 365 days were identified as being sent in error.

"Any mum who's received a letter that suggests that their waiting time is going to be longer than their pregnancy please give us a call - our number is 4433 1111," he said.