Claims of a midwife crisis in western Sydney maternity wards will be fully investigated, NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner says.
Two heavily pregnant women were turned away from Nepean Hospital within 48 hours earlier this month and there are allegations of a midwife shortage at Westmead and Liverpool hospitals, the Sun-Herald reported yesterday.
On February 7, an overdue Michelle Trotter presented at Nepean, only to be sent home with Panadeine Forte and sleeping pills.
Two hours later, she was back, having given birth on her own kitchen floor.
Just two days later, a heavily pregnant Paula Bailey arrived at Nepean Hospital with her husband Scott, only to be sent home three hours later without any medical assessment.
When Mrs Bailey aired concern, a nurse allegedly replied: ''that's pregnancy, love. Suck it up, princess. You don't know what pain is but you will when the baby comes".
Mrs Bailey's waters then broke when she arrived home, triggering a frantic dash back to Nepean.
She once again failed to gain assistance - resulting in her baby, Madison, being born in the hospital car park at 3am.
Internal documents have shown Nepean's maternity department is short of about 20 full-time positions and insiders are warning of an exodus of discontented maternity staff.
Ms Skinner said expectant mothers should not be concerned.
"While these matters must be investigated fully it must be made clear that these are two incidents across the large number of births in NSW hospitals each day," she said.
Ms Skinner said the government hoped to have 15 additional midwife positions filled by April.
There was also a need to encourage more young people to study midwifery, particularly in rural areas, she said.
One Nepean Hospital maternity staff member, with 10 years' experience as a midwife, said: ''we are being run ragged and the cracks are starting to show".
"We are juggling jobs, which means we are juggling with people's lives. If you're an expectant mother, you expect more. You deserve more.''
In 2011, NSW Health moved to adopt Birthrate Plus, a British tool for calculating the required number of midwives in NSW maternity services, based on a minimum standard of one-to-one midwifery care throughout labour and birth.
While state health hierachy have refused to publish the results, the leaked Nepean data demonstrates chronic shortages have arisen despite the guidelines.
Hannah Dahlen, from the Australian College of Midwives, said other Western Sydney hospitals - namely Westmead and Liverpool - were hiding similar statistics about shortages.
Dr Dahlen, who is also Associate Professor of Midwifery at the University of Western Sydney, said: ''The hospitals out in Sydney's west deliver more babies than anywhere else in the nation and the birth rates are increasing faster than staffing. So it's a case of finding midwives. But secondly, it about finding the money.''
She added: ''It's this constant game that gets played. Managers have to control budgets. If they don't, then they're out of a job. Eventually you see frazzled midwives burning out and leaving. And, of course, patient care is going to suffer.''
Dr Dahlen said babies being born in hospital car parks or en route to maternity wards was more common than people might think.
But she stressed: ''It's very hard for midwives to show that when they are absolutely running on the smell of a very oily rag.''
Nepean Blue Mountains Local Health District chief executive Kay Hyman confirmed there was a shortfall in the number of nurses and midwives at the hospital.
''Individual reviews of the recent complaints at Nepean Hospital are ongoing due to the in-depth detail required. However, a lack of staffing was not a contributing factor in these cases,'' she said.
NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said the Nepean Hospital's budget had been increased since last financial year and the number of nurses and midwives at the hospital had increased since 2010.
She said there was an external review of Nepean maternity care processes under way.