Matters of State with Phil Donato, MP, Member for Orange

FIERCE ADVOCATE: Phil Donato with a new mother at Parkes Hospital Maternity Unit last year. Photo: Supplied.
FIERCE ADVOCATE: Phil Donato with a new mother at Parkes Hospital Maternity Unit last year. Photo: Supplied.

The sudden closure of the Maternity Unit at the Parkes Hospital was as a result of retiring and/or resigning obstetricians and anaesthetists - something that was foreseeable, and not so sudden that it couldn't have been avoided with some forward planning. That is, if the "powers that be" were actually invested in avoiding this outcome.

After my recent meeting with representatives of the Western Local Health District (LHD), including the LHD CEO, I was advised that financial cost has not been the issue in the employment of obstetricians and anaesthetists, but rather the issue was their inability to source doctors with the required specialties in obstetrics and anaesthesia for Parkes.

However, in the document titled Review of Maternity Services at Lachlan Health Service 2018, (a review which was triggered by undisclosed specific and significant clinical incidents), there is information which clearly contradicts the LHD's position on financial cost not being a factor.

Within that document, the proposed midwifery model titled The LHS Midwifery Group Practice Model of Care states: "The [Review] team propose the following model of care that could provide certainty for continuity of care, relieve the burden on hospital-based model of care, relieve the financial burden on locum expenditure..."

In addition to this clear and documented contradiction, I also found in our meeting there was a strong reliance by the LHD upon use of the term "sustainability", in the context of the Lachlan Health Service and maternity services. The LHD advised they have "no hope of ever sustaining the status quo of two years ago".

Sadly, the real reasons for the downgrading of maternity services in Parkes to level 2 birthing (midwife assisted births only) are clear, and it was completely avoidable.

In regards to community consultation, it is unfortunate the "powers that be" have delayed engaging the community until after the service closure. It appears that NSW Health have severely underestimated the community response to the recent closure and potential downgrading of this service.

The LHD have advised community and stakeholder consultation will commence within a month. I will advise you all of this process as I am updated by the LHD, however at this stage, community consultation appears to be limited. I am told that potentially it may only involve women and their families who have used or experienced the former maternity service at Parkes.

It is the opinion of the LHD that women who have previously used the Parkes maternity service do not hold the same concerns as the community who have not used this service. However this is just not the case.

If the LHD had attended the Parkes rally they would have witnessed more than a handful of mothers with their children rallying (along with me, the mayor, councillors, nurses, mothers, fathers and at least one doctor) to restore the level 3 birthing service at Parkes through which they gave birth. Furthermore, consultation should not be sought only from those who the LHD expect (quite wrongly) will agree with their position.

If you wish to participate in consultation or focus groups, I would strongly encourage you to express interest in airing your experiences and views with the Western NSW Local Health District, by contacting them on (02) 6809 8600 or by the following link to email: https://wnswlhd.health.nsw.gov.au/get-in-touch/enquiries/contact-us

I want to assure you I will remain vigilant of the LHD's consultation process and ensure the community's views and expectations are considered in the final determination of service delivery model. I will continue to fiercely advocate for the restoration of services for both Parkes and Forbes communities.

Philip Donato MP