Eligible ACT women will be able to give birth at home through a publicly funded service after an evaluation of a two-year trial found ACT Health could safely meet the demand for another birthing option in Canberra.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the ACT Government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all recommendations of the report, including that Canberra Health Services incorporate the program as an additional birthing option for eligible women.
The report also recommended that the eligibility for homebirth be widened and the service’s coverage be expanded.
The evaluation from the Burnet Institute said the trial had achieved its goals and objectives with very good outcomes.
Of the 76 women who expressed interest in giving birth at home, 42 (55 per cent) went on to have a successful homebirth. During the trial, interest in homebirth steadily increased each year ,with eight interested women in 2017 increasing to 37 in 2019.
The evaluation said that homebirth should now be offered as part of the suite of services available at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children, as well as recommending that a service be established at Calvary Public Hospital for northside families.
It also said that a homebirth service should include first-time mothers, provide water births and service a wider geographical area beyond the trial’s criterion of being within 15-minute’s drive of Canberra Hospital.
”The ACT is an ideal location for such a service due to its geographical locality, lack of traffic problems and a strong unified commitment at all levels,” the evaluation found.
The strict trial criteria was criticised by stakeholders as being too restrictive, and the ACT Greens have called for them to be relaxed.
Ms Stephen-Smith said the overwhelmingly positive feedback shared in the report highlights that the homebirth trial was well received and homebirth should be considered as an additional birth option for eligible women in the ACT.
“Most importantly, the report found women strongly felt that the care provided was safe and competent. Women reported a strong partnership with their midwives and felt they understood their strengths and concerns,” she said.
“The ACT Government looks forward to working with the Home Birth Service Clinical Governance Committee to ensure that the report’s recommendations are considered and implemented in a careful and safe manner.”
A government spokesperson confirmed this included water births, a northside service and low-risk, first-time mothers being eligible for the program.
A northside service may be based at Calvary Public Hospital or midwives from Centenary Hospital for Women and Children being given visiting rights to Calvary to enable them to transfer women from that geographical area if required, the spokesperson said.
Canberra Health Services homebirth midwife Ann Clark said she was thrilled that midwives would get to continue to offer this as a birth choice to more women.
”The trial was a wonderful opportunity to be able to offer homebirth to eligible women in Canberra,” she said.
”Through that time, it was magical to see how many families felt empowered to give birth at home with our support.”
One of Ms Clark’s mothers, Hope Bolte from Kambah, said the announcement was awesome news.
”Now I can have another one and have it at home again,” she said.
”I’m so pleased many more women in Canberra will have the option to experience homebirth with a safe program led by some of Canberra’s finest midwives … and knowing this could again be an option for us if we do decide to add to our family is really exciting.”
Ms Bolte said it was a really good thing for women to have another choice in a program that offers the continuity of care.
She welcomed the recommendation to widen the coverage area and establish a service out of Calvary.
”That’s fantastic it should be something that’s available to all women of Canberra,” she said.
”Canberra is still a small city so to access a hospital from either side of town is relatively easy, but to have Calvary as an option would be good for the northside.”
Ms Bolte said care taken setting up the trial and the experienced midwives involved were keys to its success, and made her feel safe and secure in pursuing a homebirth.
”I loved my midwife, she was was fabulous, very experienced, and very experienced in homebirth, which put my mind at ease,” she said.