9 March 2022

Cooma maternity on the mend following sudden bypass of services

| Max O'Driscoll
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Entrance to Cooma emergency room

Cooma Hospital has brought back maternity care. Photo: Southern NSW Local Health District.

When the Southern NSW Local Health District closed the Cooma Hospital maternity ward due to staff shortages, staff were bewildered.

They didn’t think a staff shortage existed and believed their maternity ward provided a vital service for both the Cooma community and its surrounds.

Then a labouring Cooma mum was rushed to Canberra in an ambulance at 4 am with her husband following in the car behind her and luckily arrived at Canberra Hospital just in time to deliver her baby.

Local GP and obstetrician David Learoyd said it disrupted what was supposed to be “the special experience that is the experience of birth”.

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“She was away from home in an unfamiliar environment after a very stressful experience of being alone in the back of an ambulance while she was in labour,” Dr Learoyd said.

“It was completely unnecessary because we had the staff in Cooma to look after her.”

He said the moment highlighted the closure as “a decision made without consultation on the ground” and it became apparent the matter required urgent resolution.

“Fortunately, we have good contacts with Bronnie Taylor. She understands that it’s not just the Cooma situation but many other situations,” Dr Learoyd said.

“Since that time, I’ve had a very constructive conversation with the chief executive Margaret Bennett and we look forward to more constructive interaction in the future.

“It was a very disappointing thing to happen in the first place and it’s a very good thing that it was reversed.”

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Dr Learoyd said part of what makes the care in Cooma unique is its continuity, resulting from the close relationship between the general practices and the hospital. He said it enables them to provide an individualised level of care not possible in metropolitan environments.

“There’s nothing like having a baby in your own town and your own community,” he said.

“It makes a major difference going through that experience with people that you’re familiar with. There’s a lot of evidence in medical journals that having continuity of care creates a much better environment for labour and that’s a very positive thing to be able to offer.”

The Cooma doctor of more than 24 years believes having a maternity ward in a rural community is among the highest priorities for a hospital.

President of the Rural Doctors Association of NSW Charles Evill said more and more decisions are being made across the state, without the consultation of the impacted workforce.

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“The hospital management’s plan for Cooma resulted in a redirection, an ambulance being taken out of the local area and a midwife missing from the staff at the hospital,” Dr Evill said.

“NSW Health are trying to reduce spending and minimise risk in rural hospitals, but this often leads to more money and resources being used in a different area.

“Local hospitals being put on bypass results in more stress and inconvenience for patients and their families and also increased workload for the staff in the hospitals trying to organise for the patient’s transfer.

“NSW residents have had enough and expect that NSW Health should do everything possible to keep services open in rural towns.”

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I would like to thank AboutRegional for highlighting a wholly unnecessary situation that played out a few weeks ago. The closure of the maternity ward at Cooma Hospital without any consultation “on the ground” is a very concerning development in an over reach by the NSW Department of Health and its executive officers. Although the closure was, fortunately, short-lived and the Minister for Rural Health, Bronnie Taylor, acted swiftly, it does sound a very clear warning bell for all local and district residents. I am one of nine members of the Cooma Health Service’s community consultation committee (the Cooma CCC) and we found about the closure more than a week ago through a FB post. As a former Southern NSWLHD executive officer used to say: this is a health service, not a secret service. It’s a damn shame more politicians and CEOs don’t think the same way. I’d also like to add, given the information that has come to light about the lack of consultation, I wondering about the move to close the Delegate MPS and whether this decision is the work of the same executive officer. I AM HAPPY TO DISCUSS THIS ISSUE FURTHER. My mobile is 0492 905 265 – I’m currently involved with Cooma Show horse events and won’t really be available until next week. Thanks Lee

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