Homebirth

Homebirth Photo: Marina Oliphant

Doctors, fearing they will be sued, are refusing to prescribe drugs or order tests for women who want to give birth at home, and this is forcing mothers to give birth in hospitals or putting lives at risk, midwives say.

About 10 women say they were turned away from doctors' offices this week after asking for prescriptions for vitamin K, pain relief or syntocinon, a drug that prevents haemorrhaging after birth. Some had also requested ultrasounds to check the positions of their babies. All had engaged private midwives to help them deliver at home.

''This is outrageous, and it is not what I would call working collaboratively with us,'' said the vice-president of the Australian College of Midwives, Hannah Dahlen.

Melissa Maimann, a private midwife, agreed, saying GPs were making homebirths unsafe by denying women access to basic emergency medicine.

''This problem is escalating, and it is unsatisfactory. It's forcing women to get the drugs illegally.''

She said a woman suffering a postnatal haemorrhage could die if no syntocinon was available.

''It's rare but it depends on how far you are from a hospital. Ambulances don't carry syntocinon, so if you lost enough blood quickly enough, yes, you could die.''

Debbie Hollott, 36, wants to have her eighth child at home at the end of this month, but was rejected by two doctors this week after she presented them with a letter from her private midwife.

''I've had really bad experiences in hospital with my seven babies,'' she said. ''It always left me with a very cold feeling, and I didn't want to do it again, but one doctor would not even see me.''

Mrs Hollott, of Woodford, in the Blue Mountains, was given prescriptions for syntocinon and a strong pain killer after visiting a third GP on Monday.

But the president of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Pesce, denied doctors were being advised to reject women wanting to deliver at home.

''[A midwife] writing a letter is not my definition of being collaborative, and until we have a consensus statement between midwives and obstetricians, you will find that doctors will make the decision that suits them,'' Dr Pesce said.

He said it would be rare for doctors to be sued over an adverse homebirth if they had taken a patient's medical history, carried out an examination and made an ethical decision on treatment.

''But either the doctor is involved or not involved. Are you asking their opinion or just walking in and telling them what to do?''

The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Chris Mitchell, said doctors were supportive of homebirth if care was shared between GPs, obstetricians and midwives.

''Of course doctors can have a conscientious objection to a mode of care, but if that's the case, they need to refer them to someone who can help.''

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