WA Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson refers ’ concerns about Margaret River Hospital births elsewhere

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

WA’s health minister has declined to weigh in on news the region’s leading doctors have asked for Margaret River Hospital to cease offering maternity services.

The Times this month reported a cohort of local GPs issued the plea amid concerns obstetricians were not available to back up the WA Country Health Service’s award-winning Midwifery Group Practice in case of emergency.

Instead, because of recruitment challenges, WACHS could be reliant on doctors already working in the busy hospital’s emergency department to help midwives if urgent intervention is required, doctors say.

The formal call from doctors followed concerns, reported in 2022, that local women were being “scared off” delivering close to home because of the lack of intervention options such as caesarean surgery.

While veteran GP Dr Cathryn Milligan this week argued low-risk women should not be alarmed by the latest developments, Health Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson’s office referred Times inquiries back to WACHS.

Margaret River Surgery co-owner Dr Milligan said she wanted to reassure low-risk pregnant women delivering their babies at the local hospital remained a safe and viable option.

The veteran doctor, who also works at Margaret River Hospital, said the recent Times reports on the concerns of other GPs failed to acknowledge the skills and dedication of midwives.

“Having worked at MRH for 25 years in obstetrics, working closely with the midwives, I can vouch for their skills,” Dr Milligan said.

“They are well trained in the management of obstetric emergencies.”

In their pitch to WACHS, the doctors said they feared the loss of obstetric capacity could spell the eventual end of maternity services in Margaret River, as had occurred in other regional hospitals — despite calling for the service to halt.

Dr Milligan said she was partly motivated by not wanting to see more local women being required to travel elsewhere to give birth.

“The ideal situation would be to have this service (Midwifery Group Practice) running parallel with an obstetric service entailing anaesthetics, obstetrics and a caesarean section service,” she said.

“However, the MGP provides an important service, enabling safe delivery of low-risk woman in the interim.

“To let this slide would be to deskill the area completely.

“The area is growing, and we also see many unscheduled presentations of obstetric complications by our visitors (such as) bleeding and premature labour. The midwives are integral to maintaining this capacity.”

Dr Milligan said all doctors were trained in resuscitation and emergency management.

“Any assistance we are asked to provide would be under advice from a specialised obstetric team,” she said.

The doctors behind the recent letter said this was unfair to emergency doctors and unsafe for women experiencing complications, rejecting telehealth backup as cited by WACHS.

However, Dr Milligan said it would be “devastating” if maternity services closed completely.

Shadow health minister, and WA Liberal leader Libby Mettam said the Government had to listen to doctors on the front line.

Ms Mettam, the MLA for Vasse, said the key to addressing those concerns was to fund the long-delayed expansion of the hospital campus, as she and the WA Opposition had already said.

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