Making births safer

Kate Newton in the Dom Post reports:

Serious changes to the system are needed to protect babies during birth, Parliament has been told.

Compulsory supervision of first-year midwives and a national data unit collecting information on all births are among recommendations from the health select committee, which presented a report yesterday.

The report was in response to a petition presented last year by The Good Fight – a group of women whose babies died or were left disabled because of problems during birth.

The group called for “immediate and wide-ranging change” in the maternity system.

In an unusually detailed response to a petition, the report urges changes, saying “serious work needs to be done to improve some aspects of the New Zealand maternity services”.

The changes initially introduced by Helen Clark in the 1980s which led to GPs abandoning maternity care have been arguably the biggest disaster in the health system. It is a classic case of unforeseen consequences.

One can not turn the clock back, and get GPs back into maternity care – they have basically departed for good. But the steps proposed should go some way to making things safer.

The report’s recommended changes include making it a requirement, rather than an expectation, that all new midwives complete the College of Midwives’ first year in practice programme.

The committee said it had heard anecdotal evidence that births in which the baby died or was hurt often involved newly qualified midwives “working without sufficient experience or support”.

The committee chairman, National MP Paul Hutchison, said yesterday: “We’ve made a pretty clear and strong suggestion there that midwives, for at least a year after graduation, should be subject to … mentoring and very close supervision.”

The report also urges the Government to set up an independent national unit to collect information on all births. Currently, information is collected consistently only when a baby is stillborn or dies during or shortly after birth.

The Good Fight spokeswoman Jenn Hooper, whose daughter Charley was left severely disabled when her resuscitation at birth was bungled, said a database would be able to capture information about birth-related disabilities and “near-misses”, which were now left out of reporting.

Both recommendations seem very sensible to me.

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