8 June 2023

Murrumbidgee Local Health District issues apology as investigation looks at complaints

| Shri Gayathirie Rajen
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Patient on a bed

Thirty women have complained about alleged inadequate maternity care at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital. Photo: Orbon Alija.

Following the reports of an investigation into complaints from 30 women about maternity care at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital, the health district has issued an apology.

It was revealed that last year the statewide patient advocacy group Maternity Consumer Network (MCN) filed a complaint with the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC) after receiving numerous complaints about alleged inadequate maternity care at Wagga Base Hospital.

MCN president Emilia Bhat said the advocacy group’s reaction to the complaints was one of horror.

“While we often do read complaints regarding obstetric violence all over Australia, we have never read so many that were all severe in nature and so many from one health service,” Ms Bhat said.

“It is the worst (complaints and cases) we had seen and I had to take stress leave for a few weeks to cope with the amount of women’s trauma I had to read through due to how serious they were,” she said.

Ms Bhat hopes from the investigation that the HCCC brings to light the truth of what was going on there and recommendations for changes to be made regarding training from a human rights-based approach on communication, pain relief and listening to women’s concerns as well as addressing management and bed blockage.

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The president also commented on Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) emergency department statistics.

“From what we saw from women’s complaints, they were inappropriately and prematurely discharged and ended up readmitted with serious infections where early clinical signs had not been acted on and other issues like improperly treated post-partum haemorrhage etc,” she said.

“They were also blamed and held responsible for their complications.”

An MLHD spokesperson said the health district apologised to any patient who did not experience the standard of care they should have received.

“The NSW Government is committed to providing respectful, evidence-based and equitable maternity care that improves the experiences and health and wellbeing outcomes of pregnant women and their families,” the spokesperson said.

“MLHD has an ongoing commitment to providing high quality care to women and their families during pregnancy, labour and birth.

“The district takes feedback and complaints seriously as they are an important way to identify concerns regarding care and improve services and we encourage patients, families and/or carers to discuss their experience.”

The spokesperson said all concerns raised are investigated thoroughly, and honest and open feedback is provided on the outcomes and actions undertaken to improve standards of care.

“The complaints raised by the Maternity Consumer Network are currently before the Health Care Complaints Commission (HCCC), an independent statutory body that investigates complaints relating to health care,” the spokesperson said.

“While the HCCC assesses this complaint it would not be appropriate to provide any further commentary on the concerns raised.”

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Independent Member for Wagga Waaga Dr Joe McGirr said women and their children must be at the front and centre of maternity care with respect being a core principle and practice, and first-class communication a priority.

Dr McGirr said he had no record of being contacted by the MCN, however he took the concerns seriously and thanked them for raising the matters.

“My understanding is that the MLHD have not been aware of the specifics of the complaints as the investigation is being conducted by the HCCC,” Dr Joe said.

“However I understand the MLHD has organised for the Clinical Excellence Commission to undertake a review and that this is being discussed by the board of the MLHD in the coming weeks.

“I have written to the CEO of the Murrumbidgee Local Health District requesting a formal briefing on the review and actions being taken to improve services.”

Dr McGirr said he had been approached by a number of women in the past four years over issues with maternity services, in particular in accessing ultrasound.

He said he had also been actively involved in addressing the issues with the minister and health service.

MLHD said in its statement, it was progressing with several actions to strengthen maternity care services to ensure they are collaborative, equitable and women-centred and part of the ongoing commitment to providing high quality health care to women.

These include the appointment of a clinical director of obstetrics and gynaecology at Wagga Wagga Base Hospital who commenced in the role this month and planning for a women-centred model of care which has been co-designed with consumers.

Other actions include participation in the National Preterm Birth Prevention Collaborative. The joint collaborative aims to improve health outcomes for women and babies by safely reducing preterm and early-term birth.

MLHD also hopes to promote and utilise the program Connecting, Listening and Responding: Blueprint for Action – Maternity Care in NSW.

This includes ongoing system reform and service redesign to strengthen maternity care across preconception, antenatal, labour, birth, postnatal care and transition to the community and to inform the direction and local actions to ensure all women receive respectful, evidence-based and equitable maternity care that improves experiences and health and wellbeing outcomes.

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