ANTIGONISH: A crucial service providing pregnant women the necessary support, care and advice during pregnancy, labour and the postpartum period, which had been regularly offered at the St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish, has been suspended.
Sally Loring, the senior director of maternal and child health with the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) told The Reporter in a phone interview on January 18 that they needed to temporarily suspend the service.
“Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things. We had three midwives associated with St. Martha’s, one of them is on a period of leave at the moment, [while] one has been off since the summer of last year, completing an educational sabbatical,” she explained. “Then for personal reasons, the third one had to leave the province – so that means we [don’t] have any midwives to deliver the service. Hopefully this disruption is only temporary.”
Last February, Antigonish MLA and Minister of Health and Wellness Randy Delorey announced the addition of two full-time permanent midwife positions in the province, including one at St. Martha’s.
“We know that midwifery services do provide high satisfaction, they work well in collaboration and partnership as part of our primary care services for maternal care throughout the pregnancy,” Delorey said during the announcement. “We did hear the concerns of citizens around the sustainability of the program and the NSHA responded to ensure that we bring in another midwife.”
Loring responded that rumours of funding cuts to the program aren’t true and it was unforeseen circumstances that led to the departure of the midwifes.
“One of the problems we have here is we don’t train midwives within the Atlantic provinces so when we do recruit to fill vacancies, the people that apply are coming from outside provinces,” she explained. “So one of the things we’re in the process of doing, with the support of the Department of Health and Wellness is looking to see if whether we can start a midwifery training program here in the Atlantic provinces; then there isn’t such a big relocation need.”
The NSHA is currently seeing what they can do to recruit new midwives to fill the three vacant positions to “make sure we can get the service back up and running again if possible,” but unfortunately Loring hasn’t had any responses to the posting yet, which has been advertised since the summer.
Tammy Martin, the NDP’s health critic, charged that women’s health services are suffering under the McNeil Liberals, as they have cut or abandoned several services impacting women’s health care in Nova Scotia, most significantly the cancellation of all government-offered prenatal classes and the recent suspension of the midwife team at St. Martha’s.
“There is a health care crisis in our province and that extends to women’s health and pregnancy care,” she said. “Midwives are an important part of the health care system and could take some pressure off family practices, if the province were willing to make the investment.”
Martin highlighted the lack of action on midwifery and the cancellation of prenatal classes is contrary to the government’s stated aims for maternal health.
“There seems to be a major disconnect between what’s happening in our hospitals, and the McNeil government’s talk. Promises are cheap,” NDP Status of Women spokesperson Lenore Zann said. “Services for women should be available no matter where you live in the province. Women outside of Halifax need care too.”
Loring acknowledges how disappointing this has been for the 22 affected patients, some of whom were approaching their due dates when they were advised by their midwife they wouldn’t be able to carry out the services to term.
“We know how valued our midwives are and the difference they make to moms and babies alike,” she said. “We are committed to recruiting midwives to Antigonish as quickly as possible and offering sustainable long-term midwifery services for families in all areas of Nova Scotia.”
Addressing the NDP’s comments, Loring doesn’t agree that this qualifies as a crisis as both services are being provided by different service providers.
“No woman has been put at risk because of this, nor has their unborn baby,” she explained. “All of the women who were under the care of midwives have been transferred to the care of family physicians so there is no risk there.”