10 May 2023

Birthing services put on hold due to staff shortage

| Matt Nicholls
Start the conversation

AT least four expectant mothers from the southern Cape will be asked to relocate for the final stages of their pregnancy after birthing services were suspended at Cooktown last week.

The decision was made by the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service as a result of key staff shortages.

“Currently we have vacancies at Cooktown for senior medical officers with the advanced training in obstetrics and anaesthetics required to deliver a safe birthing service,” said Dr Marlow Coates, the executive director of medical services for the region.

“As a result of those vacancies, we are currently unable to offer a safe birthing service at Cooktown.

“The safety of our mothers and their babies must always be of the absolute highest priority, so we are temporarily pausing birthing at Cooktown.

“Ante and post-natal maternity services will continue to be provided unchanged.

“However. during the temporary suspension, Cooktown women will need to be relocated to Cairns or Mareeba from 36 weeks until delivery to ensure a safe birth.

“While we have no expected births in Cooktown for the remainder of February, we have four women scheduled to give birth in March who will be affected, and all are being contacted and advised.

“All expectant mums required to relocate to Cairns or elsewhere to give birth will receive support with transport and accommodation costs through the Patient Travel Subsidy Scheme.”

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service chief executive Bev Hamerton said she hoped it would not be a long pause.

“We’ve got some really strong feelers out and we have one recruitment in place,” she said.

“As we see the easing of COVID restrictions there will be more people looking around to move.”

Ms Hamerton admitted that the problems in Cooktown with staffing could be emulated in Weipa, which is due to commence birthing services later this year.

“In remote areas it is not as simple as there are other factors to consider,” she said.

Dr Coates said the Cooktown Hospital was aiming to restart birthing services within 10 weeks, or “earlier if our recruitment of suitably qualified medical personnel is successful”.

“I would like to thank families in the Cooktown area for their understanding while we undertake this recruitment program,” he said.

“Clinics and all other patient and ward services at Cooktown will not be affected and the emergency department will continue to operate as normal.

“There will be no change for emergencies as patients presenting to the hospital who require emergency surgical intervention will continue to be transported to Cairns in accordance with existing emergency evacuation policies.”

Start the conversation

Cape York Weekly

Subscribe to get the latest edition of Cape York Weekly in your inbox each Monday.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Cape York Weekly's terms and conditions and privacy policy.