Women push for midwives under bulk bill reform

Easier birth with midwives ... Michael and Gemma Newman with their daughters Isabella and newborn Mahli. Photo: Steve Gosch
Easier birth with midwives ... Michael and Gemma Newman with their daughters Isabella and newborn Mahli. Photo: Steve Gosch 

Midwives cannot register fast enough to meet growing demand from women for services after historic changes that allowed them for the first time to bulk bill using Medicare, the Australian College of Midwives says.

About 14 midwives have been registered to prescribe some drugs and services with federal funding since the changes took place in November, a spokeswoman for the college, Hannah Dahlen, said.

These changes have given us so much more scope and independence

It was difficult to find doctors willing to work with midwives, and hospitals also needed new arrangements to accommodate them, but women were increasingly demanding the services and her own practice was already booked out until September, she said.

In order to qualify for Medicare, midwives needed to work with a medical practitioner such as an obstetrician, or a GP who provided obstetric care, but so far only a few were willing.

"Most obstetricians are saying they are not going to have anything to do with a collaborative arrangement," Associate Professor Dahlen said.

Many midwives would instead make arrangements for ''visiting rights'' in hospitals in the same way a specialist doctor would. NSW Health was creating a policy to allow this, she said.

As well as providing more hospital midwife services, Associate Professor Dahlen believed the changes would give women in rural areas greater access to quality care.

Gemma Newman gave birth to her baby girl Mahli six weeks ago today with the help of a midwife-led program operating out of the Orange Aboriginal Medical Service.

Mrs Newman said having the help of midwife Tracey Foster had changed her experience of birth: "I loved that she was there the whole time and I could tell her about all my problems."

Mrs Foster arrived at Mrs Newman's house when she felt labour pains at 1am and stayed with her until they travelled to hospital at 4am. Since the birth she had visited the family every day.

Mrs Newman had found Mahli's birth easier than that of her daughter Isabella, which she attributed to the different style of care provided by her midwives.

"The way they got me to birth was really different; they weren't forcing me to push and it was much more relaxed," she said.

Mrs Foster got funding to start the Murundhu dharaa birth program in 2008, after five Aboriginal women in the area gave birth at home with no medical support.

"They wanted to birth somewhere they felt culturally safe and that wasn't available," she said.

Through the service she and a team of midwives will help women give birth in a birthing centre, which opened last week, and provide maternal and child healthcare until the children turn 14.

"These changes have given us so much more scope and independence," Mrs Foster said.