Birthing back

STANDING UP. Residents rallied in support of Cohuna District Hospital on Friday.

STANDING UP. Residents rallied in support of Cohuna District Hospital on Friday.

ALL health services at Cohuna District Hospital - including obstetrics - are back in operation after doctors from all units staged a walk-off last Friday. 

Following a decision made Friday morning by Cohuna's doctors - led by general practitioner, Dr Peter Barker - to protest the withdrawal of obstetrics services to the hospital, the Department of Health and Human Services intervened.

In response, the department and Echuca Regional Health, which manages Cohuna's hospital, developed an on-call roster system to ensure Dr Barker, who is the town's sole general practitioner obstetrician, receives suitable assistance.

Echuca Regional Health director of medical services, Dr Glenn Howlett, who also oversees Cohuna, said that the additional support would help spread the load on Dr Peter Barker.

" [This will] ensure that mothers birthing at Cohuna receive the support required," he said.

Dr Barker said that he felt this meant the issue was completely resolved.

"The extra support is a great outcome for the Cohuna community and I am very pleased services can continue," he said.

"I also look forward to working with Cohuna District Hospital on the actions to ensure a safe and sustainable service into the future."

Prior to the intervention and subsequent restoration of full services, Dr Barker told a crowd of staff and supporters gathered at the hospital that obstetrics staff had been told they would have to go on bypass to Echuca, meaning they would have to refer all patients there for treatment, but that they were not told why.

"We were told that, legally, we have to go on bypass, but we were not given a reason," Dr Barker said. 

"We'll comply, but we've also said to them that all the other services we provide in the hospital are far higher risk than obstetrics.

"So we've actually all gone on bypass for all services. As of today, we've walked away."

But the stand-off was over just four hours later when the Department of Health and Human Services intervened, following meetings with hospital management. 

Nurses and midwives also met with hospital management but were placed under a gag order and were unable to comment.

Echuca Regional Health chief executive officer, Michael Delahunty, speaking in the days leading up to the walk-off, said that the decision to withdraw obstetrics services had centered on safety concerns.

"The departure of a GP obstetrician [three months ago] has left us with what is, in effect, a single practitioner maternity service. This is not fair on him – or the women of our community," he said.

"One person cannot be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 30 days a month with no relief," he said.

The walk-off and subsequent announcement that services were resumed followed days of lobbying - including a community protest at Garden Park on Wednesday, which attracted more than 200 people - after it was revealed that Dr Barker would have to cease obstetrics services.

Dr Barker claimed that he, and those women who were booked into the hospital, were only given two days' notice of the decision.

The announcement left 47 women who were booked in to give birth at the hospital forced to find alternative arrangements while the dispute carried on.

Now the women will be able to continue with their original birthing plans.

Mr Delahunty said he was pleased with the outcome. 

"Our priority has always been to source additional support to ensure women could continue to safely deliver at Cohuna. I am pleased that we have been able to achieve this and we have an agreed plan in place."

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