During Country Women’s Association (CWA) of NSW Awareness Week (4 - 10 September 2022) expectant and new parents in southern NSW are being reminded of the support services available in their local communities. A catalyst for the formation of the Country Women’s Association of NSW a century ago was the need for adequate maternal health services in the bush, and 100 years on the Association continues to advocate for expectant mothers and their families, with the critical issue the focus of this year’s annual Awareness Week campaign.
The issue was on the Association’s radar at its annual State Conference in Sydney in May, when a number of branch motions were put to members around the need for improved maternity services and care in rural and remote NSW, and for the establishment of a dedicated hotline to support women in rural areas to navigate available services.
On the final day of the conference, in the wake of the release of findings from a NSW parliamentary inquiry into rural and regional health, a motion of urgency was unanimously endorsed by members, calling for immediate action by state and federal governments to address the current crisis in the provision of primary medical services as a result of the lack of general practitioners and medical staffing in hospitals in rural NSW.
The Inquiry found the state’s rural health system was "in crisis and is failing residents of rural, regional and remote areas" with people living outside metropolitan centres having "significantly poorer health outcomes, greater incidents of chronic disease, and greater premature deaths".
One of the key recommendations from the Inquiry was around establishing a review of rural maternity services in the wake of the closure of dozens of hospital birthing units around the state, and often harrowing testimony from inquiry witnesses who shared their stories of giving birth without adequate support and facilities, or having to travel far from home to have their babies.
“In 2022, this is simply not good enough and is very disturbing for those living outside our major cities. Having a baby should be a wonderful time for parents and families, but instead we’re looking at a situation where mothers are having to endure stress and uncertainty, and even fear for their lives and the life of their baby,” said Joy Beames, President of the CWA of NSW.
The Country Women’s Association and Gidget Foundation have teamed up to raise awareness of the importance of antenatal and postnatal support, as well as maternity services in rural and regional NSW.
Maternity services are provided at Moruya, Bega, Cooma, Goulburn and Queanbeyan as well as antenatal outreach clinics and postnatal services across the region to provide families the support they need close to home with a mandate to provide safe, timely and collaborative maternity care that addresses each woman’s specific needs and achieves the best health outcomes for both mother and child.
The health services available locally are complemented by incredible non-government partners-in-care such as the Gidget Foundation and Tresillian.
A commitment has been made of $3 million over four years from 2020-21 to expand and improve Gidget services, including ‘Start Talking’, a national telehealth counselling service, five new Gidget Houses, Gidget Village group programs and a 24/7 support centre with a further $2.6 million committed from 2021-22 to expand Gidget services.
The funding recognises that approximately 1 in 5 new mothers and 1 in 10 new partners will experience depression or anxiety during pregnancy and in the year following birth. Demand for Gidget’s services increased by 150 per cent in 2021 compared to 2019, and its team delivered more than 12,000 appointments last year alone.
Member for Bega, Dr Michael Holland said of the launch of CWA’s Awareness Week: “I congratulate the Country Women’s Association of New South Wales on its centenary.
It was founded in response to the poor quality of life and limited services available to women and children living in the country.
"The recent NSW Government Inquiry into Health outcomes and access to health and hospital services in rural, regional and remote New South Wales has shown that deficiencies and inequalities still exist in rural areas including the Bega electorate.
"I support the NSW Government’s investment in Gidget and Tresillian services for which I have advocated over many years.
"The NSW Government needs to provide comprehensive antenatal, intrapartum and postnatal care at South East Regional Hospital, Bega and the Eurobodalla Maternity Service, Moruya.
"I have been disturbed by the complaints of constituents, their families and midwives over the reduction of services for women before, during and after their births.
"The NSW Government also needs to provide comprehensive women’s health services including outpatient consultation and procedures as well as gynaecological surgery", the Member for Bega said.