Roadside Birth Rates Soar As Maternity Wards Close

Rural doctors say babies’ lives at risk

When Lindsay Hollingsworth had her first child, Blake, labour took 23 hours. So when contractions set in for the birth of her second baby, she didn’t think the hour’s drive to the nearest maternity unit would be a problem.

But things progressed far quicker than either she or her husband Aymon anticipated. And around 20 minutes into the drive, Lindsay called for Aymon to pull over as she could feel the baby in the birth canal.

With the assistance of a triple 0 operator, Aymon had to help Lindsay, screaming in pain, in the boot of their station wagon by himself. Paramedics arrived just moments before the couple’s daughter Selena arrived.

The Hollingsworths’ local hospital has had their maternity services shut down, a pattern that’s repeated itself across the country. In 2016 there were just 106 small maternity units (those with fewer than 100 births per year) in operation across the country, less than a third of the 325 that were operating in 1991.

Accompanying those closures, the rate of births before arrival at hospital has skyrocketed. The rate Australia-wide has gone from 3.23 per 1000 births in 1992 to 5.64 in 2016. That’s an increase of 77 per cent.

In Queensland, the rate has shot up a mammoth 166 per cent. Queensland rural obstetrician and former Vice President of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr John Hall, says that’s putting babies’ lives at risk.

“We’ve seen in the perinatal data that the death rate in towns where we’ve removed maternity services have gone up significantly, so currently they’re sitting at about 23.3 in 1000, when the state average in Queensland is 9.3.”

The Queensland government insists that giving birth is safe and getting safer, but it is convening a summit of experts to look into rural maternity services.

But Dr Hall says that the closures have to stop, and there needs to be a complete rethink of how obstetrics are managed in country towns.

“Rural communities across Australia just don’t have access to safe birthing anymore.”

Featured image: Selena with her family – and a baby all of her own