Expectant mothers on Canberra’s north side may soon come under pressure to have their babies at Calvary Public Hospital to relieve demands on the new Centerary Hospital for Women and Children.
While Minister for Health Meegan Fitzharris said no decision had been made yet on how to redress Canberra’s north-south birthing imbalance, she said the current $2.6 million upgrading of the Calvary maternity ward that is due to be completed in July would mean women could have their babies there in much more modern facilities.
Ms Fitzharris was responding to questions about issues raised in a anonymous letter received a couple of weeks ago that claimed Centenary was understaffed, under-resourced, women’s and babies’ health was being compromised and bullying was continuing to occur.
Acknowledging the pressures on Centenary, she said the new hospital had attracted women from right across the city, causing a spike in births there and resulting fewer women choosing to birth at Calvary. This increased demand has also been accompanied by more complex cases, such as gestational diabetes.
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“We think that [the upgrade] will help redress the balance across the Territory,” Ms Fitzharris said. “It’s really important that where we have increased demand that we make sure that all the facilities that we have are responding to that increased demand.”
Asked whether women would still be able to choose what hospital they could birth in, Ms Fitzharris said Territory-wide planning work was still being done on maternity services and it needed to be finalised before any decisions were made.
“I expect to make announcements on that in the next couple of months. I would really encourage you not to make that assumption yet because that decision has not yet been made,” she said.
“I think it is really important that women who are going to have a baby here in Canberra, or indeed come from throughout the region, that they have access to the highest quality maternity care that they can in one of our two public maternity facilities.
“We are rebalancing the quality of those facilities but I want to be really clear that the service quality remains the same, and you can choose a different model of care at Calvary and at the Canberra Hospital. You can actually do that now.”
The Minister said that in a city this size, with two public hospitals and a soon to be third, it was important to take a Territory-wide look at health service delivery, and not a facility by facility one.
“It’s really important to maximise the facilities we have across the ACT so they are well used to meet the needs of our community,” she said.
Ms Fitzharris said that although the origin of the letter was unknown the issues it raised had been taken seriously and acted upon, with the claims investigated and staff forums taking place across the hospital.
She said ACT Health had advised her that there was enough staff to deal with the demand but work on two birthing suites had put pressure on services and more than the current 14 post-natal beds were needed.
More post-natal beds had been budgeted last year but that work would not start until the following financial year.
Ms Fitzharris denied women and babies were being sent home early because of pressures on the ward.
“No woman or their baby is sent home early until they are well, and there are also a number of ways that staff can work with women when they go home,” she said.
The Minister said a recent audit had found no increase in babies being readmitted, but a slight decrease in re-admissions.
Ms Fitzharris said ACT Health had a zero tolerance policy towards bullying but it was an issue in hospitals across the country.
“We are not alone. But it is certainly very clear that it is everyone’s responsibility to build a polite and healthy culture,” she said.
She said there had been no evidence that Centenary staff rosters had been manipulated during the recent accreditation process which had found the Canberra Hospital wanting in 33 areas.
Despite the catalogue of issues that continue to bedevil Canberra’s public hospitals, the Minister expressed confidence in ACT Health’s senior staff and said she trusted what they were telling her.
“I have made it absolutely clear that we need to improve performance, that governance needs to be improved and strengthened,” she said.
She said staff were being including in all discussions over the next few months as ACT Health moved to split into separate corporate and clinical functions, a decision Ms Fitzharris said had been taken to meet the increasing demands on the health system.
Will the Calvary upgrade make enough of a difference to choose it over Centenary to give birth? Do you think ACT Health is planning properly for Canberra’s population growth?