"Rural mums matter and rural babies count" was the message made loud and clear on Friday as hundreds turned up to Parkes Hospital to rally to save our maternity service.
The public rally was organised by the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association (NSWNMA) in response to the Western NSW Local Health District (WNSWLHD) downgrading services in both Parkes and Forbes hospitals.
Our maternity unit is currently closed due to a shortage of obstetricians, forcing Parkes mums to travel to Forbes to give birth.
On a petition circulating in both communities, the NSWNMA claims the WNSWLHD has ceased funding for medical obstetric, anaesthetic and emergency doctors, with no long-term plan for recruitment and retention of permanent medical proceduralist staff.
WNSWLHD Chief Executive Scott McLachlan said last week the state government has a range of incentives to try and entice doctors to rural regions including training pathways but a potential solution is three to five years away.
At the rally on Friday Parkes midwife and NSWNMA representative Hannah Wilton said it is vital to the community's well being that we maintain, "as an absolute minimum", the current level of maternity services.
"In today's society it is no longer acceptable to simply allow the proposal of plans that will see the effective degradation and reduction of our health service," she said.
"Even more so when we recognise our Lachlan community is not only thriving but it is growing in population and in need.
"Perhaps worst of all, these reductions are as a result of poor succession planning.
"We steadfastly and passionately say to those administrators that would see the decline and removal of our district maternity services that this is not only manifestly irresponsible, it's totally unsafe, unjustifiable and without merit.
"Why has the health service not offered a hospital based, obstetric position with appropriate remuneration earlier?"
Ms Wilton said they are dealing with two lives and the maternity unit closure added more pressure on Parkes' paramedics and ambulance resources.
She also said women had the "right to birth on country", in their own communities.
Parkes Mayor Ken Keith OAM and State Member for Orange Phil Donato joined the community at Friday's rally.
Cr Keith said council has been doing what it can to help address the problem.
"We have been in discussions with the health service and with politicians," he said.
"We certainly have a commitment from New South Wales Minister for Health Brad Hazzard that he doesn't want to see any downgrading of services in either Parkes or Forbes.
"We've also spoken with the federal ministers in Canberra earlier this week and alerted them to the problem.
"Scott McLachlan said this problem has been a decade in the making - well if it has been a decade in the making, I suggest he look at the management of Western Area Health and the way Lachlan Area Health has been set up to encourage doctors to come to our regions."
Parents who could not attend the rally sent in hundreds of baby outfits with their children's name and date of birth which were placed on the lawn to represent babies who have been born at Parkes Hospital.
The Western NSW Local Health District will take two months to decide the fate of Parkes Maternity Unit.