NEW WATERFORD: The suspension of the midwifery program in the South Shore has raised concern over the future of the program in other regions of the province.

A January 24 media release by the NDP Caucus criticized the handling of Nova Scotia’s midwifery programs by the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), and stated there are growing concerns that the Antigonish program may soon come to an end.

“There are only two midwives in that area and they have a very full caseload and that’s something that’s unsustainable obviously, as with the South Shore,” said Tammy Martin, MLA for Cape Breton Centre and NDP spokesperson for Health and Wellness.

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“The residents of the community are very concerned that the two midwives currently are not going to be able to sustain the call and the requirements for so many patients.”

Martin says that she believes this indicates a lack of concern by the NSHA and is particularly troubling because of the shortage of family doctors in the region.

“With the state of the healthcare system, this is one attempt in helping to alleviate some of the pressures, so I would think that it’s something very worthwhile that this government should be paying attention to,” said Martin

The NDP Caucus filed a freedom of information request for all documents related to midwifery for the NSHA which they say returned no results during the authority’s first 22 months. The NSHA said it is looking into why the search came up empty.

“This says to us that nobody at the NSHA is talking about it. It’s not on the radar of anybody at the NSHA that the midwifery program is in danger in these communities in Nova Scotia,” said Martin.

Sally Loring, senior director of maternal and child services for the NSHA told The Reporter that residents have no reason to be concerned that the Antigonish program will be discontinued. She said the NSHA plans to maintain the two midwife positions that have been in place in the region since 2009.

Loring pointed out that the NSHA has developed an addition to the delivery unit at St. Martha’s hospital, where women can give birth with the assistance of a midwife. They have also established outreach clinics in Port Hawkesbury and Guysborough County. She said the two midwives have approximately 60 women under their care at any given time from the Antigonish, Richmond County, Guysborough, and Canso areas.

“There’s not an active plan to shut down the services or anything like that, in fact, we’re supporting the midwives in both of the clinics,” said Loring.

Loring acknowledged that there is a demand for more services, but said there are currently no plans to expand the program. She added that 60 per cent of the women served by the program must be part of an at-risk group due to factors such as health, social, or financial concerns.

“Part of the Department of Health and Wellness requirements of the midwifery services is that they focus on women who come from vulnerable populations,” said Loring.

“It could be that somebody would like to have a midwifery-led birth and they come from outside of that group… If there isn’t capacity in the group, they’re not able to support that.”

The NDP caucus has launched a petition calling on the government to ensure that midwifery services are supported and expanded in the province. According to the January 24 release, over 100 people registered their support in the first 24 hours.