Theodore maternity service stays shut despite community paying for upgrade
Mothers will have to deliver their babies further afield, although Theodore will still cater for imminent births. (Giulio Saggin: ABC News)
A central Queensland town that raised money to rebuild its hospital maternity ward ruined in the 2010 floods has been told full birthing services will not return.
The hospital had maternity services up until the floods, and since then has only been able to cater for emergency deliveries. [
Liz McIntyre had to travel to Rockhampton and stay there for nearly two months to have her second child. (Supplied: Liz McIntyre)
Central Queensland Health and Hospital Services (CQ Health) told Theodore residents the news, despite the town celebrating a grand opening of the refurbished facility two years ago.
Local resident Liv McIntyre said it was complete madness when the facilities were state-of-the-art and there were capable medical and nursing staff available.
“The community rallied, they raised a heap of money from locals … but they were never given the tick of approval to allow the centre to re-open even though there was a grand opening,” Ms McIntyre said.
Ms McIntyre, who lives on a cattle property an hour’s drive from Theodore, said it meant women travel away for at least a month and this took a toll.
Ms McIntyre gave birth to her first son in Theodore three years ago when she went into early labour, despite the maternity service still being under construction.
When she was pregnant with her second son, 15 months ago, she had to travel 230 kilometres away to Rockhampton and stay there for two months until she gave birth.
“As you can imagine, the stress of having a toddler up in Rockhampton while you’re pregnant and the expenses of being there, you’re away from your family, away from your business,” Ms McIntyre said.
“It takes a huge toll on everyone.”
Liz, pictured with husband Tom McIntyre with their two children, Darcy and Charlie, is concerned about the lack of maternity services. (Supplied: Liz McIntyre)
Ms McIntyre said there were many younger people returning to the area, so there were lots of children being born or in kindergarten.
“It’s a really nice time for Theodore, but it’s crazy that option [to give birth] isn’t there.”
A community disappointed
Theodore’s Dr Bruce Chater is disappointed by CQ Health’s decision to keep the maternity ward shut. (ABC Capricornia: Alice Roberts)
The move has disappointed Dr Bruce Chater who has worked in the small town for 35 years, providing obstetric services.
“I think we’ve delivered over a thousand babies in Theodore, but it’s made pretty clear that the decision is the decision,” Dr Chater said.
Dr Chater said the town was the very edge of CQ Health’s area and the nearest birthing centre in the next health district was Roma.
“It’s an enormous distance and we want to make sure that anyone who comes into labour, we’ve got the skills to — and continue to keep those skills — to deal with things for them to make sure they’re safe.”
Although the hospital will not provide planned birthing services, it does cater for emergency deliveries and this will continue.
Dr Chater said he wanted to ensure this remained a top-class service.
“A number of women expressed their concerns about being kept safe.”
CQ Health’s chief executive Steve Williamson, who broke the news to the community, said Theodore Hospital would continue to offer ante-natal and post-natal care.
Women would then have to travel to Biloela just over 70 kilometres away for a couple of weeks before they were due and stay there until they gave birth.
“We talked to the community about that and of course that’s a challenge and we took that into account,” Mr Williamson said of women being away from their families.
“We took that very seriously.
“Anything that takes families or mums away from the networks or supports is really, really important.”
The decision, however, was made on a number of factors, he added.
This included the distance to Biloela’s maternity services, the challenge of providing round-the-clock obstetrics, and the small number of births making it difficult for clinicians to maintain their hours for appropriate clinical credentials.
“The challenge for us is the ability to provide emergency maternity care and particularly emergency caesarean sections, where the bub’s life of the mum’s life or both their lives might be in danger.”
Mr Williamson said when CQ Health weighed this up against the impact on families being apart for two weeks, the safety risk was the most important factor.
However, Theodore Hospital will still provide services for imminent births, and midwives would spend time in Biloela to maintain their skills, he added.
“All hospitals across central Queensland … are capable of providing imminent birthing services.”
Last year, Biloela’s maternity ward was shut for weeks when the obstetrician went on holidays.
The closure of regional services has concerned other groups.
Maternity Consumer Network vice-president Marceline Green has just been to Canberra to raise the issue with politicians.
Ms Green said mothers from Chinchilla, Biloela and Theodore often had to travel on to further centres because local services were on bypass.
“It doesn’t necessarily mean that they have only come from within the town of Chinchilla — they could have come from two hours west,” she added.
“So if we say they need to go on to Dalby or Toowoomba, that’s another hour minimal of further travel, sometimes during labour and sometimes they don’t make it.”
The Darling Downs Health and Hospital Service recently reopened the maternity ward in Chinchilla on a part-time basis.
It is still looking for a registered midwife.
There will be fewer choices birth choices for women in central Queensland with the planned closure of maternity services at Gladstone Mater from October 1.
Mercy Health and Caged Care Central Queensland chief executive Lynne Sheehan said the decision had not been made lightly.
“The number of births at Gladstone Mater has been declining for a number of years now and to run a successful maternity service you require a minimum number of births to ensure the viability of the service,” Ms Sheehan said.
“Unfortunately we are no longer reaching that level with fewer than 10 births a month.”
Women will have to travel to another town and stay there for at least two weeks to give birth. (AAP)