Statements on reports: Family and Community Development Committee – perinatal services

It gives me great pleasure to rise to talk on the Inquiry into Perinatal Services: Final Report, produced by the Family and Community Development Committee in June this year. I would like to begin by thanking the committee staff, and two in particular who went over and above in their research for this. I congratulate them on the arrival of one baby and the impending arrival of another in January. They certainly did their research and put in some extra yards there.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank some of the locals from the Warrnambool area who came along at my request to give information to the inquiry because I knew they would be very valuable. I would like to thank Dr Liz Uren, Ms Rachael Lee, Julianne Clift, Ms Janene Facey, Mr Nicholas Place, Barbara Glare and the mums who supported her that day and gave some insights as well, Maryanne Purcell and a colleague from my nursing days who put in a written submission, Cass Austin. They all contributed significantly to some 80-plus findings and recommendations that are in the report.

I think the report really does highlight some of the ways we have progressed in our perinatal services. I would like to say that the findings show that we actually do a pretty good job. We started this journey probably in the 1920s when we realised that we did need to put more of a medical model around birthing. We did that and we have done very well. There is always room for improvement, and I will talk about those in a moment, but there is also a time to recognise what we do well. Whilst we might have put a great medical model in place, what we forgot was to recognise that — particularly in the last, say, 40 years — the dynamics of families are changing. Once where we had extended families of aunts, uncles, cousins and grandmothers, we do not seem to have that in the busy lives of families anymore. What we found with the report and highlighted in our recommendations is that we really need to put social and emotional wellbeing around families very, very early in the piece if we want to address some of the societal issues that are causing us challenges such as crime, drug addiction and mental health issues. I am not saying they are all the results of not supporting families but I am saying with the support of families very, very early, we can support and offer what the extended family once did.

I would like to discuss one of the recommendations initially, which was recommendation 4.3:

The Victorian government support rural and regional maternity services through increased funding and staffing, to allow women in rural and regional areas the choice of giving birth in their own community, taking into account the safety of mothers and babies, and the Capability Framework for Victorian maternity and newborn services in that region.

I highlight Portland hospital in this instance, where there really does need to be some investment. I think this government is ignoring the fact that we need to have services right out into the regions. We do not want to be a state where we just have the City of Melbourne. We want to be a state that has a state of cities, and Portland is certainly one of those cities. It currently births 80 babies and will probably go up to 120 this year. If you look at the way it is funded and the way it works, they will get an income of $600 000 for those babies, but to put on a 24-hour service for an obstetrician and an anaesthetist, which you need 24 hours a day pending potential challenges, and midwives would cost about $2 million. We have got to understand that there are challenges for regional centres that we need to take into account so we can grow the regions, provide the services and keep those safety features that we want to continue as our priority.

I would also like to mention that the Warrnambool Base Hospital has a big commitment from the Liberal-Nationals government, and no-one is committing like we are. We recognise the importance of regional hospitals and that is why we have prioritised a commitment to Warrnambool Base Hospital’s upgrade.

I would then like to discuss the recommendation that:

The Victorian government evaluate the demand for Early Parenting Centres …

with the view of expanding services so mothers, babies and families can be supported.

Barb Glare is a woman in our community who has developed a centre, and we saw lots of examples where women can go and be supported with early lactation support and general support that those extended families I think used to provide. We need to look for people in our communities who have this organic growth of services, rather than try to implement something that will not work, and support them. I recommend that we do look to put more support around families, and that is exactly what the report highlights. It gives me great pleasure to have been part of this committee. I believe we will make a difference when implementing some of these recommendations, and we will give families the support they need.