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ABC News

Gladstone Hospital maternity unit bypass nears 100 days

Young families in the central Queensland city of Gladstone say they are reconsidering their future in the area because regular health services, including a maternity unit, remain unavailable.

The bypass has been in place since July 8, forcing women to drive over an hour north to Rockhampton for birthing services.

Chloe Gill and her partner Jesse moved to Gladstone two years ago so Jesse could pursue his firefighting career.

But now the young couple are reconsidering their future in the city, because of the lack of maternity services.

"I'm 27 weeks pregnant," Ms Gill said.

"We bought a house in Gladstone, we've got a dog, we've met some amazing people.

"[But] there isn't a basic need in this regional town."

The Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service said it understood the bypass was stressful for expectant mothers and families, but patient safety was the priority.

Ms Gill said the uncertainty of where she would give birth was adding a lot of pressure to the situation.

"I feel like I should be researching how to raise a baby and educating myself," she said.

"Instead, I'm sitting up late at night, looking at Airbnb and trying to find accommodation.

"It has put a strain on our pregnancy that we never thought we would have to think about."

'This is on the government'

Gladstone has a population of about 65,000 people and, until the bypass, about 600 births took place at the city's only hospital every year.

Makayla Howard is 35 weeks pregnant and says as a first-time mum she is "extremely anxious and stressed" about where she will give birth.

"We can't afford to go up to Rockhampton for two or three weeks waiting for this baby," she said.

"The thought of giving birth on the side of the road is terrifying."

The 27-year-old teacher, who moved to Gladstone five years ago, said the situation was making her reconsider her future.

"Why would anyone want to live in a town where they don't feel safe or supported by the health system?" she said.

"The midwives and nurses are doing a great job — this is on the government."

Concern for service's future

On Friday morning Ms Gill and Ms Howard spoke at a forum organised by the Liberal National Party.

Opposition leader David Crisafulli said the Gladstone region contributed "massively" to Queensland's economy and deserved a world-class health service.

"It's absolutely unacceptable that a city the size of Gladstone can have a situation where young mums can't give birth in the city they live," he said.

"It's been nearly 100 days — this service must be restored immediately.

"The community is going through too much anxiety and too much trauma."

Mr Crisafulli said he was concerned the service might never return.

Minister threatens resignation

Gladstone MP Glenn Butcher, who is the state Minister for Regional Development and Manufacturing, said he would resign from politics if the maternity unit remained on bypass indefinitely.

"My number one priority at the moment – and it has been for the last three months – is to get the service back on," he said.

"I've had several meetings with the health minister, I've had more than several meetings with her chief of staff, I've met with director-general.

"I will put my job on the line.

"If what the LNP is saying is true and we never get maternity services back … I will quit. Simple as that."

Mr Butcher said the hospital needed four obstetricians to operate safely.

"Currently we have two," he said.

"We have another one that does part-time, a doctor that does five days a fortnight."

Obstetricians 'just not there'

The full-time obstetricians are understood to be working in Rockhampton while the Gladstone bypass is in place.

"We've been to every private provider in Australia to try and find obstetricians and there were none available," Mr Butcher said.

"If there was a pool of obstetricians sitting in Sydney or Brisbane or wherever, this government would be doing everything we possibly can to pay them to come to Gladstone.

"They're just not there.

"You can't employ people when there's no-one to employ."

Mr Butcher said the government was hopeful a mechanism known as private right of supply would bring a fourth obstetrician to Gladstone by the end of this month, meaning some maternity services could resume.

Central Queensland Hospital and Health Service chief executive Dr Emma McCahon said the service would remain on bypass until qualified medical professionals could be recruited.

"Gladstone Hospital birthing services will only be reinstated when we can ensure the safe provision of care for mothers and babies," Dr McCahon said.

"It is important to note that a safe 24-hour birthing service can only be provided when a full birthing care team is available.

"The hospital is in contact with all women due to deliver soon to update them on the situation.

"Our priority is the safety of those who rely on our service."

The maternity unit at the Biloela Hospital also remains on bypass and will stay that way until a doctor with anaesthetic skills is found.

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