Pollies take a new look at babies

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THERE is news beyond the Federal election. The negativity, fake news, accusations and impossible, populist promises will not be missed.

Michael Moore.

Politics can also look at issues sensibly. An ACT Assembly committee is inquiring into maternity services away from the glare of election spin and propaganda.

The Standing Committee on Health, Ageing and Community Services is due to commence public hearings on maternity services and models of care in June.

The quality and delivery of services will be the prime focus of an inquiry looking beyond the public sector to include examination of the private hospitals, home birth and supporting maternity services generally.

Submissions originally closed early in the year but are now being accepted into June. Unfortunately, there has been a significant delay in the work of this committee due to a matter of privilege and the focus of the committee on a different inquiry looking at the legalisation of cannabis.

Committee chair Bec Cody says of this inquiry: “a vital part of the work in this committee is ensuring the health of women and children. This is critical for improving health outcomes in the ACT”.

Efficiency and effectiveness of maternity services including “rostering policies and practices, staff-to-patient ratios, optimum staffing levels, and skills mix” are part of the focus.

Not surprisingly, submissions to the committee have raised a range of issues that may not have been expected.

Having a baby causes both trepidation and excitement. The first submission was from a new mother who was overwhelming in praise of her experience with the Canberra Midwifery Program describing “an exceptional standard of care” and taking “the time to respond to every concern I had”.

The Canberra Hospital was described as “another great surprise”. “The rooms are inviting and nonclinical, which made me feel so at ease in the hospital setting,” she said.

“And the homely feel of the Birth Centre… very conducive to the process of a natural labour”.

Other submissions were not so positive. One mother, who had given birth to twins, had to argue strenuously to be able to see both babies.

She felt treated badly and was told that everything she did was wrong. Another woman was very concerned about treatment that has left her in severe pain and a dad was concerned he didn’t feel welcome in the follow-up sessions.

Nurses also had the opportunity to have their say. One nurse was able to list more than 10 issues that needed to be resolved including shortage of staff, bullying and poor orientation for new staff members.

Mental health of parents was raised with a number of submissions calling for careful consideration around prevention and appropriate levels of support. The Centre for Perinatal Excellence highlighted “the urgent need for an integrated, innovative and sustainable approach to perinatal mental health in Australia”. Others presented a similar view with the Ministerial Council on Women encouraging a “continuity of care” model.

Submissions from Maternity Services and the ACT government attempted to respond to many of the issues raised. No doubt these will assist the members of the committee in understanding the context of the positive and negative messages from the submissions.

There were many contrasting stories. The members of the Standing Committee will need the wisdom of Solomon to sort out the issues and bring improvements for expectant mothers.

The ACT Assembly committees have been a major strength of the Assembly since the first sitting 30 years ago (on Thursday, May 11, 1989). They provide a place where MLAs can consider the issues in a calm manner, have the chance to engage with the community and can look for sensible, non-partisan specific solutions.

This is a far cry from the posturing and brinkmanship so common in the context of an election. The Assembly committees really illustrate what can be achieved when people compromise, look for the evidence, consult with stakeholders and work together for the common good.


Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health. He has been a political columnist with “CityNews” since 2006.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.

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