Maternity services at Margaret River Hospital take a hit despite Midwifery Group Practice showing growth

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Margaret River Hospital.
Camera IconMargaret River Hospital. Credit: Warren Hately

Local doctors have lost their fight to retain onsite obstetricians at Margaret River Hospital — a move they say means more women will be forced to travel to give birth.

While low-risk pregnancies continue to be supported by the Midwifery Group Practice, all other maternity services will be transferred to Busselton and Bunbury hospitals.

The change follows concerns raised by a cohort of local GPs last year who feared having no onsite obstetricians would become permanent, putting emergency department doctors under unacceptable pressure.

The doctors petitioned the WA Country Health Service about their concerns as WACHS undertook recruitment efforts amid what it called “a global shortage of healthcare workers”.

The doctors wanted elective births halted at the hospital until obstetricians could be onsite.

“Our concern is there is no physical backup with obstetric knowledge/skills in Margaret River,” the doctors said.

“We feel for multiple reasons that it is unsafe to continue to offer elective intrapartum care in Margaret River once the GPOs (GP obstetricians) are no longer on call.”

Brecken Health founder Dr Brenda Murrison, who runs two clinics in Margaret River, said the change had since become permanent.

“I know it was a difficult decision for all those involved,” she said.

“I will be honest — I do not think that these services will return and, sadly, pregnant (medium and high-risk) ladies will need to travel to Busselton or Bunbury or Perth to deliver, depending on degree of complexity involved.”

The move represents a further reduction of services at the hospital, which has been subject to campaigning from local doctors demanding a State Government funding commitment to an existing WACHS-backed master plan to expand the campus.

Maternity services first came under scrutiny in 2022 when doctors expressed concerns women were being “scared off” delivering at Margaret River because caesarean intervention was no longer available.

However, WACHS defended procedures at Margaret River, noting births had increased since the introduction of the MGP, which celebrated its second birthday earlier this year.

“The MGP provides antenatal and postnatal care for all local women, as well as birthing for low-risk pregnancies at Margaret River Hospital,” a spokesperson said.

“Clinical staff, including doctors, are not being asked to work outside of their scope of practice.

“As our MGP is a midwifery speciality area, it does not routinely involve emergency department physicians attending births.

“It is normal practice, however, for emergency department doctors to offer medical care if a medical presentation arises.”

WACHS said it continued to actively recruit GP obstetricians for regional hospitals amid a global skills shortage, but transfer of high-risk women to bigger hospitals was standard practice in WA.

A local GP who asked not to be identified told the Times it was disappointing WACHS had not employed locum obstetricians to fill the gap, though that was “accepted” in regional WA.

The doctor said the change was unfair on emergency department doctors, reiterating that the petition to WACHS said maternity services carried greater legal risks for GPs who had chosen not to work in obstetrics.

Local ED doctors were supported by 24/7 emergency telehealth service for midwives and obstetrics workers, WACHS said.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails