The ACT Government has released a 10-year comprehensive strategy which it says will put the mental and physical health of mum, bub and healthcare staff at its heart.
Last month, a nurse spoke to Region under the condition of anonymity to allege staff working in obstetrics and midwifery are traumatised daily.
“Staff go from trauma to trauma each shift without adequate support in place,” the nurse said.
“Other frontline workers have a mandatory debriefing after events while we don’t even get a phone call.”
She also spoke of constant pressure to do double shifts or longer shifts due to high levels of leave and of her colleagues who experienced regular panic attacks before coming to work.
A government inquiry into maternity services in 2018 was told of similar traumatic events for mothers who had given birth.
One wrote of her severe anxiety and PTSD following the traumatic birth of her son. Others wrote of them receiving unprofessional treatment and being alone and upset throughout the birthing process.
That damning inquiry into the system found communication between staff and women was lacking.
It recommended women should be able to make decisions about their own maternity care and that better resourcing should be introduced so mother and baby were both viewed as admitted patients on the maternity ward.
It was hoped the latter would assist in lowering and making safe workloads of midwives and nurses working in publicly funded hospitals and contribute to better outcomes and safer care.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said the new Maternity in Focus plan would be supported by an investment of more than $12 million in the upcoming Budget.
Included in its 58 priorities was a need to provide workforce planning across the system and establish new scholarship and training opportunities for midwives in perinatal loss and perinatal mental health.
In terms of physical expansion of services, the special care nursery will be extended and a Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Service would be set up at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce.
A scoping study for a residential service to support mental health care for new parents and increase parental attachment would also be undertaken.
The ACT Government has further agreed to fast-track negotiation on a ratios framework for midwifery and nursing in maternity services.
“We’ve also heard from both families and midwives that demand for midwife-led continuity of care exceeds current capacity,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
“While the ACT currently has the highest proportion of births in the public system delivered through the continuity model, the Maternity in Focus plan commits to a target of at least 50 per cent of women and pregnant people having access to this model of care by 2028.”
The plan, particularly its focus on perinatal mental health, was welcomed by the CEO of the Perinatal Wellbeing Centre, Dr Yvonne Luxford.
“The strategy is really positive and I’m glad to see the government responding in such a holistic matter. They’ve brought together all of the aspects we have been talking about over the last few years,” she said.
The centre supports many women who experience traumatic births and those who need perinatal mental health support from conception to birth and beyond.
As many as one-in-five mums and one-in-10 new dads experience depression after the birth of their child. Dr Luxford said demand for their services has significantly increased recently.
“Up to now, there hasn’t been enough focus on wellbeing and the mental health effects – which is obviously where a centre like ours comes into play,” she said.
“We need to talk more about the mental health impacts, not just about the physical impacts of birth and caring for a baby – and the strategy is great at starting to do this.”