Shock staff ratio left woman to give birth alone

A WOMAN gave birth alone in a Queensland hospital bed as an overworked midwife struggled to look after 12 women in one shift.

"The midwife at Gladstone Hospital managed to rush into the ward just in time to catch the baby with her bare hands, but no midwife was with the patient as she gave birth," Nurses Professional Association of Queensland's Jack McGuire told our sister paper The Sunday Mail.

"This happened in the last few weeks, and is just one example of the critical understaffing at the hospital which is booming due the shutting down of surrounding maternity units and since the recent closure of Gladstone Mater private hospital's maternity services.

"We need a regulator with teeth that will ensure that staff on the frontline are listened to by management."

But Queensland Health insists there is adequate staffing, and most of the $1.25 million the department invested in expanding Gladstone Hospital's maternity ward was used to recruit staff.

The QNMU's safer workload standards for midwives recommends a patient has one-on-one care, while in active labour and workloads should not exceed 1.4 patients per midwife, but currently there are no legislated ratios.

Australian College of Midwives acting chief executive Ruth King said the 12:1 ratio was extreme and potentially dangerous.

Maternity services in regional Queensland are stretched to the limit.
Maternity services in regional Queensland are stretched to the limit.

"It would be very difficult for anyone to give safe care in that situation," Ms King said.

"There would definitely be a high risk of something going badly wrong, and it is not acceptable for a midwife to shoulder that kind of responsibility."

Newborn babies are not included in the workload count even though they need regular observations.

One-third of women have a C-section requiring extra post-surgical care.

"Midwives are leaving the job in droves because of this kind of stress. It is vital to address ratios to keep our workforce," said veteran Queensland midwife Liz Wilkes, from My Midwives.

A Queensland Health spokesman said there were 35 midwives working in the maternity unit and 4.4 full-time equivalent neonatal nursery nurses are being recruited.

"There are at least three midwives on-duty each shift - morning, evening and night and additional staff are called in if there is a spike in activity," he said.

Health Minister Steven Miles said the closure of Gladstone Mater Hospital's Maternity Services and the announcement this week of their intention to close completely, joins a trend of private health providers closing or reducing services, particularly in regional Queensland.

"Unfortunately, private hospitals around the country are opting to do the same as we see a collapse in private insurance due to rising premiums and the failed policies of the Morrison government," Mr Miles said.

"The Commonwealth Government should buy the Mater Hospital, to try and undo some of the mess they've made."