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Hurstville Private Hospital forced to re-train staff to cater for more births in 2021

Sole focus: Although it is experiencing midwife shortages, Hurstville Private Hospital's maternity staff have been able to focus on building new parents' confidence during the pandemic.
Sole focus: Although it is experiencing midwife shortages, Hurstville Private Hospital's maternity staff have been able to focus on building new parents' confidence during the pandemic.

Hurstville Private Hospital's maternity unit has had a bumper year, but with what had been a huge baby boom during lockdown, staff have had to go the extra mile.

Plagued by a shortage in nurses and midwives because of travel restrictions, staff have had to worker longer hours and train up its nurses to double as maternity support.

Maternity Services Manager Wendy Foye said while the lack of midwives had been greatly noticeable since the start of the pandemic, the unit was calling for more midwives for the past five years.

There are 56 on the team. This includes registered midwives and Mothercraft nurses.

"There's always been a shortage because it's an ageing population," Ms Foye said. "We are retiring earlier so we have been actively recruiting."

The problem she said, was university graduates were not coming in hard and fast.

"University is not popping them out as much as they used to," she said.

"Many moons ago they created a Bachelor of Midwifery. When I trained you did general nursing and midwifery was an additional two years. They changed it into direct entry but that means there is a lack of skills in general nursing. You can become a midwife in three years. But also all the young, single midwives want to be in big public hospitals."

Precious time: Midwives say thanks to visitor restrictions during the pandemic, new parents have been able to enjoy time alone with their baby.

Precious time: Midwives say thanks to visitor restrictions during the pandemic, new parents have been able to enjoy time alone with their baby.

As a result, staff are tired and overworked.

"They work extra shifts but you do it because you don't want to under-staff the unit," she said.

"I've come close to closing the unit - everyone knows what situation we are in. But we've been doing it all through team nursing. However there's no longevity in that.

"General nurses that have been helping in the post-natal unit or NICU special care, don't have the skill set we midwives do because that's something that takes time - months and months to grasp. We've given it a go with an extra pair of hands but it's hard to give quality service if you're always worried about where the next midwife is coming from and how tired the girls are."

The shortage has been felt even more so because of more babies being born.

"We are living and breathing a baby boom," Ms Foye said.

"With last year's lockdown, all these babies being made, and it hasn't stopped. We will set our record this year and go above 1000 babies born. It has been a full house. Everyone has been re-thinking what they're doing instead of travelling."

More births: The hospital expects record births in 2021.

More births: The hospital expects record births in 2021.

Although midwifery is not the "most glamorous profession" she says, it is rewarding.

"It's a real sense of family. We are close with our paediatricians and obstetricians, and we have a history with our patients - they keep returning with every single pregnancy so we see a lot of familiar faces. We are seeing generations coming through."

There was also a silver lining to it all.

"We've actually also loved it because the first thing to go were the visitors so we could focus solely on the patients and their partners," Ms Foye said.

"Some people were saying 'how could we' not allow visitors but it's been good for us.

"The mothers' milk supply came in early, Breastfeeding rates went up, and the women were well rested because they weren't entertaining visitors. Before, they would skip a feed. They have come out more confident."

"It's definitely been quieter in the wards. The mums were scared at first not imagining their aunties and sisters coming in. But they have surprisingly enjoyed having that one-on-one, uninterrupted closeness. They are more relaxed, and they have been able to learn how to parent. It was beautiful to watch in the delivery suites because there was no background noise.

"Also we didn't have any COVID-19 outbreaks. but we want to hold onto our restrictions because we are enjoying them so much."

Director of Clinical Services, Martina Goddard said staff were looking forward to re-starting parenting programs offered at the hospital.

"The downside is we had to cease face-to-face antenatal programs, or rely on Zoom, but we have recommenced that this month," she said. "They are still smaller sizes but it's a start in the right direction. Soon enough we will have lactation drop-in clinics re-open."