Yass Valley women will soon not have to travel to Canberra to give birth if Labor is elected on 18 May, with a $4.7 million pledge to restore maternity services to Yass Hospital.
In a joint statement, health spokesperson Catherine King and Member for Eden-Monaro Mike Kelly said the new maternity ward would include a fully fitted-out birth room and a postnatal room for overnight stays.
“Yass is expected to grow to almost 30,000 people by 2036. Improved medical services will be integral for the future of the town,” they said.
“Expecting mothers from Yass and surrounding areas are currently forced to travel up to an hour to give birth either in Goulburn or Canberra. This investment will mean that mothers can give birth closer to home.”
New South Wales’ Southern Area Health Service closed the maternity ward at Yass Hospital in 2004, and there has been a push ever since to have it restored.
NSW Labor promised the same amount to restore the ward if it was elected in March, but NSW Minister for Health, Brad Hazzard said then the pledge was irresponsible and that the model proposed was unsafe.
A petition started last year by local mothers Lindsay Hollingsworth, Bec Duncan and Jasmin Jones, who is also a councillor, garnered more than 2000 signatures and won in-principle support from Yass Valley Council.
Ms Jones, who has been campaigning for a new Yass Hospital with a maternity ward, welcomed the announcement, saying that with 200 women already having to cross the border to give birth each year and the valley growing in population the situation was only going to get worse.
She herself had given birth on the side of the Barton Highway on a dark winter’s morning in an ambulance that had been speeding toward Canberra with her husband following behind.
“We’re all running the gauntlet across the border,” she said.
Ms Jones said women were stressed and exhausted having to manage the distance, not just for birthing but pre and post-natal care. The situation was resulting in unnecessary intervention and complications and some were spending thousands of dollars on accommodation in Canberra to avoid the strain.
“It’ll still be up to the State Government to deliver the service but having the infrastructure, having a midwifery model and low-risk birth unit at Yass means women can give birth in their local community,” she said.
Ms Jones said the Yass Valley population was 17,500 with 2.9 per cent growth a year and the Council had an aggressive settlement strategy.
“Put in double the amount of young families and you’ve got a recipe for disaster if there is no infrastructure,” she said.
She dismissed Mr Hazzard’s comments as election-driven, saying NSW Health delivered low-risk birthing units across the state all the time.
Ms King said the Yass investment was part of a Shorten Labor’s Government plan to invest $1 billion in vital upgrades to Australia’s public hospitals: building new wards with more beds, upgrading emergency departments and theatres, and establishing new palliative care and mental health facilities.
“This investment blitz – one element of Labor’s $2.8 billion Better Hospitals Fund – is a key part of Labor’s Fair Go Action Plan to improve health care and strengthen Medicare,” she said.