10 May 2023

All systems are go: new birthing suite to come online in new year

| Matt Nicholls
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Staff at Weipa Hospital welcome the arrival of the Panda resuscitaire. The device, which was donated by the Humpty Dumpty Foundation, is a purpose-built examination bed for newborn babies.

FOR the first time this century, expecting mums in Weipa and the surrounding community will be able to give birth in a local hospital when a new service begins early in 2023.

The Weipa Hospital has a fully equipped birthing suite and a crack staff lined up to welcome Cape York’s newest arrivals.

A start date has yet to be locked in for the new service to commence, however, expect the switch to be flicked in the first quarter of the year, says the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service.

Alison Weatherstone, the acting director of midwifery at TCHHS, reckons it’ll be a momentous occasion when the first baby is born.

“I’m absolutely excited, as is the community and all of the staff in Weipa. They’re really keen and eager to see that official opening of Weipa birthing,” she said.

“This has been in progress since 2018 – starting with a business case – and we’re now getting to the pointy end.

“Alongside the implementation of a new birthing service, comes the infrastructure side of things.

“We’ve had a new build of a pretty modern and very family-centred birth space.

“Alongside that, we’ve got an overnight stay room as we are looking at early discharge options, so women who have a normal birth can go home really quite early and be with their newborn baby.

“As well as that, we’ve also got a secondary clinical space so that if we have more than one woman birthing at the same time, or there’s maybe a potential transfer or relocation, we’ve also got another clinical space.

“So that’s been part of our infrastructure build, including a waiting area that is very family-centred, and then we’ve got the beautiful outdoor area that includes a yarning circle.”

Weipa midwifery unit manager Rukhsana Aziz by the neonatal stabilisation cot in the birthing unit, which is expected to officially open in the early months of 2023.

Ms Weatherstone said staff at Weipa had been providing maternity services to women for decades, with only the delivery of babies missing from the equation.

“There has always been an antenatal and postnatal service in Weipa,” she said.

“But we’ve transitioned to a midwifery group practice, which is where the women are allocated and known midwife to care for them through their pregnancy journey.”

While Weipa’s birthing service will only cater for low-risk pregnancies, all expecting mums can receive care in the lead-up.

“Midwifery group practice is an all-risk model of care, which means all women, regardless of any pre-existing or new or developed, complexities they have during their pregnancy, will still have their own midwife in Weipa,” Ms Weatherstone said.

“But to birth in our local area, which is all of our facilities in Torres and the Cape, you have to be what we consider low-risk.”

Women in the Western Cape who are rated as low-risk will still have a choice to give birth locally or fly out in advance of their due date, Ms Weatherstone said.

“Ultimately, we want the birth experience to be a safe and positive one for the mum and baby,” she told Cape York Weekly.

“It’s also good to reassure the community that no matter what gestation of your pregnancy you’re at, no matter what complications arise, you’ll always get emergency care in the hospital and there will be qualified staff to manage that situation.”

As a result of birthing services coming to the region, Weipa now boasts some of the best facilities of any remote hospital in Australia.

The birthing bath is the pride and joy of the midwifery team at Weipa.

“As part of this bigger picture project, there’s been the CT scanner implementation in Weipa and with that has come some specialist radiography and cinematography services,” Ms Weatherstone said.

“That also means that you can do things like ultrasound locally, which previously you’ve had to go off and have that procedure in Cairns.

“That’s been a huge benefit, I think, to the community.

“On top of that, we have the amazing bath. I think we’re very proud of this beautiful, big bath.

“We’ll be offering water immersion and, when we are ready to do so, that will extend to water birthing, which is a huge pain relief option for women.

“On top of the bath, we obviously have all of the beautiful equipment that we need for birthing, including the neonatal resuscitation machine that’s been donated (by Humpty Dumpty Foundation).

“Overall, it’s a very well-equipped facility.”

Having qualified staff in key roles has also been one of the challenges for the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, with a shortage around the country.

However, the final pieces of the puzzle are expected to arrive in Weipa in January.

“For one woman to birth in this community for a planned birth, we have to have 24-hour access to maternity care and clinicians that can actually provide that service,” Ms Weatherstone said.

“So part of that is we need GPs that are obstetric trained and we need GPs that are anaesthetic trained.

“We also need nurses that can provide emergency and planned theatre.

“There are also six midwives as part of that midwifery group practice. In Weipa, they have a midwifery unit manager and then you’ve got your normal roles, like director of nursing, who supports the whole model of care.

“Weipa is very much focused around a multidisciplinary team approach, so we have access to allied health, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers, dietitians and diabetes educators and a physiotherapist, so it is an absolute wraparound service for women.”

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