10 May 2023

Pregnant pause: Birthing service at Weipa put on hold

| Matt Nicholls
Start the conversation

CAPE York women will continue to travel to Cairns and beyond to have their babies after Weipa’s birthing service was officially put on hold last week.

Millions of dollars have been poured into creating a new birthing suite at Weipa Hospital in preparation for the service, which was originally supposed to start last year. However, issues with both recruiting and retaining staff have made the process difficult.

Cooktown’s birthing service has been on pause since February last year, with no sign of the service coming back online.

Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service CEO Beverley Hamerton said hitting the pause button on Weipa’s birthing service was a difficult decision.

“Recruitment of medical officers with advanced training in obstetrics and anaesthetics continues to be challenging,” she said.

“As a result, the Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service regretfully has decided to formally postpone the opening of the proposed new low-risk birthing service at Weipa until we have all the necessary additional medical staffing in place.

“We were successful recently in recruiting a medical officer with additional skills in anaesthetics to support the proposed birthing service.

“They will be in place in the next few weeks.”

“But we are having little success in recruiting a medical officer with additional skills in obstetrics, to replace one who has recently resigned, despite exploring all options.

“This additional medical officer is required to make up the full complement of staff needed to support a safe and sustainable local birthing service on a 24/7 roster when birthing so far from a larger hospital.

“Without an appropriate level of staffing, including midwives and theatre-trained nurses, as well as sufficient doctors with additional skills in obstetrics and anaesthetics, we cannot operate a sustainable service without exposing expectant mothers and their babies to an unacceptable risk.

“We will absolutely not do that to Weipa and Western Cape families.”

Ms Hamerton said there had been a huge amount of interest in the new service, following extensive consultation in the communities surrounding Weipa.

“We wish to thank families in the Weipa and Western Cape area for their understanding while we continue to work towards introducing this new service on a safe and sustainable basis,” the CEO said.

“While we remain committed to offering birthing services at Weipa, at this stage, we cannot provide a definitive date for the start of birthing. As we have seen with Cooktown, where our birthing service also remains suspended, as well as at other locations in Queensland, access to midwifery and medical staff for maternity services has been a state-wide issue, as well as a national issue.

“All health services have faced significant challenges recruiting such clinicians, but we are using every resource and network at our disposal to find suitable candidates.”

Despite the setback, the services now on offer at Weipa are better than ever before, with up to four midwives available to guide would-be mums.

“Antenatal and post-natal maternity services will continue to be available at Weipa unchanged through the Midwifery Group Practice,” Ms Hamerton said.

“The safety of mums and their babies is always our top priority.

“The new birthing service at Weipa will be introduced when we can ensure the safe provision of care for mothers and their babies on a sustainable ongoing basis from a multidisciplinary clinical team.

“We will continue to recruit actively for the Weipa service.

“Until the new birthing service can be introduced, women in Weipa and the Western Cape will continue to be supported and recommended to relocate to Cairns or elsewhere for birthing just as they do now.”

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.