The future of maternity care in the Southern DHB's Central Lakes will be decided in November.
The board has been consulting on where to locate primary birthing units and maternity hubs in Central Otago and Wānaka since February.
At present, there are units in Queenstown and Alexandra supported by hubs in Wānaka and Ranfurly, but it's clear the situation is no longer working for expectant mothers and residents of the area.
Four options are on the table: the first would be a new unit in Cromwell, the second was a unit in Clyde at the existing Dunstan Hospital, the third would be two units - one in Wānaka and keeping the existing unit at Charlotte Jean Maternity Hospital in Alexandra, and lastly a new unit in Wānaka and establishing the unit at Clyde.
A public meeting was held in Wānaka last week, where the board outlined the possibilities and was met by mothers upset and concerned that their birthing experiences would be replicated if a facility was not established in the town and not done soon enough.
Almost two-thirds of responses to the consultation came from Wānaka and Hāwea, and most wanted two primary birthing units, with Charlotte Jean retained and a new unit built in Wānaka.
Southern DHB general manager of primary care and population health Mary Cleary Lyons said no decisions had been made yet.
"We have to take cost and affordability into account, but this isn't a purely cost exercise because if it was a cost exercise then this discussion wouldn't even be on the table," she told the meeting.
"Supporting rural birthing is always going to cost more, but it's about doing what's right for communities and doing that in a way that's sustainable and as cost-effective as we can make it. So, all those factors will come into play but you've given us an awful lot to think about."
Cleary Lyons said it was clear a change needed to happen, but none of the options on the table were maintaining the status quo.
If the SDHB decides against a birthing unit in Wanaka, it remained committed to ensuring a fit-for-purpose maternal and child hub will be put in place in Wanaka, Cleary Lyons said. Such facilities are temporarily operating from the Wanaka Lakes Medical Centre.
“It has been a really long and difficult process,” she said she believed maternity services in Wānaka had improved because there were now more midwives there, and they were “more supported”.
The SDHB said in June it was reconsidering the site of the planned maternal and child hub however the Gordon Road property leased by the SDHB was still an option, she said.
Another risky roadside birth shows why National’s promise to pledge $500,000 to a new maternal hub at Wanaka needs to happen, Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean said.
“I’m appalled and concerned that a Wānaka woman had to give birth in the Cromwell Gorge during the hour-long journey to the nearest birthing unit at Alexandra.
“How many more women will have to give birth on the roadside or office floor, before Wānaka gets the primary birthing facilities it so desperately needs?
“I don’t think it’s acceptable. The National Party certainly does not think it’s acceptable, and that’s why a birthing unit at Wānaka would be a high priority and will get our financial backing.”
Its estimated about 380 births occur in the area with 160 of those in Wānaka.
A paper with a recommended option would now be drafted before going to the board for a decision in November.
Read edition 992 of the Wānaka Sun here.