Rural Maternity Services Taskforce: Dr John Wakefield on ABC Capricornia

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Dr John Wakefield, Deputy Director-General CEQ and Chair of the Rural Maternity Services Taskforce, was interviewed by Jacquie Mackay on ABC Capricornia.


You're with ABC Capricornia, and the Rural Maternity Taskforce has been given the job by the Queensland State Government to present a report on the safety of rural maternity services. And as we heard yesterday, the Friends of Theodore maternity services are pushing very hard for this taskforce to visit their community to hear their concerns. But at this stage, the taskforce has not yet decided which towns they will be visiting. So the chair of the Rural Maternity Taskforce is Dr John Wakefield. He's also the Deputy Director General in the Clinical Excellence Division of Queensland Health. He explains what the role of the taskforce is.

So our job basically, is to do two things, firstly, to provide a report to the Minister and public about the safety of rural maternity services. And the second thing that we will deliver is a guide for communities, decision makers, clinicians and so on as to how to assess the safety of rural maternity services. One of the things that came out of feedback from Theodore, what happened in Theodore, was really a request from the community as to better process about how we get around consultation when there's a review of local services.

So how long do you have to deliver your reports? How quickly will this be undertaken?

We anticipate the report will be finalised late January of 2019. And we anticipate we'll finalise the work, that part, for probably around the end of the first quarter. So around March/April 2019.

How is the online survey, which is undertaking submissions at the moment, there's a February deadline for the feedback on that. Will that, online submissions, then be taken into account for your report?

Yes, it will. There is a commitment to have a summit to bring stakeholders together from around the rural and remote parts of Queensland to hear the outcomes of the taskforce both in terms of the safety of services, but also to listen to those stakeholders to feedback the outcome of that consultation prior to finalising the taskforce work. So we we haven't got a date for that yet. But we anticipate that as I said, will be close to the latter part of the first quarter of next year 2019. As well as the summit the taskforce will be visiting three or four rural and remote maternity centres to make sure we get on the ground voices of the clinicians and the community to add weight to our deliberations.

When will the taskforce decide where those three focus groups are going to be held, and will the summit be able to be held in Theodore because I know that community has been pushing very hard for it to be held there?

I want to draw the distinction between the summit and members of the taskforce visiting rural communities. So the summit needs to be because that will likely have more than 100 or so people from around the state that needs to be in a place which is easy to access. So the first summit was held in Brisbane because it's just easier for people from whether that be from the Cape and Torres or Far North Queensland or out west for everybody to get to Brisbane. So we haven't announced that yet. But it's likely to the summit itself is likely to be in a place where it's easy for people to travel to. Which three communities for example, members of the taskforce visit, as part of the gathering of information, there's been a lot of interest, obviously, there's lots of rural communities, and they all want us to go to their community. So we've got to make a choice, there's no doubt that the community of Theodore has asked us to visit them as one of the three centres. And obviously, we also want to visit a remote Indigenous-type community as well. But we haven't made the final decision on that yet. And the taskforce will make that decision very shortly. And obviously, that will be announced from there.

Because I know one of the concerns is that people will get very distracted by the Christmas/New Year season coming up. So it would be good to have certainty on where and when those focus groups will be meeting so that people can get their submissions together, can arrange to be there at the right time.

So I absolutely appreciate that. We'll be planning those things such that we can visit those communities at a time when people are not away on holidays, and they are there. So that will likely be towards the end of January of next year. But again, I say that those dates will be locked in, according to what works for both the rural community and the hospital and the local community members and council and so on. The taskforce has about 20 members ranging from rural maternity consumers, rural clinicians, professional groups, union, and experts in the area of rural maternity practice. The whole taskforce won't be visiting, it'll be two or three members of the taskforce that will visit each community. And just as a way of getting information on the ground from the perspective of a particular rural community. Each community is different, and we'll only be able to get a snapshot.

And the recommendations that you will deliver from your report, will they be something that then the minister can choose to accept or not accept as the case may be?

I want to be really clear about expectations here. It's not the job of the taskforce to make any decisions or recommendations about whether a particular maternity service should exist or not, or have its function change, that's not our job. The job of deciding how to organise and deliver maternity services is the job of a of each health service and the board that runs the health service. So it's really important that that we don't raise expectations that in some way our role is to make decisions or recommendations about individual maternity services. Our job is number one, to provide very clear information to the public, and particularly rural women about the safety profile of having a baby in a rural area. And the second is, as I said, it's not so much a recommendation it is to produce the decision support guide which we would expect that health services in the future if they are making decisions to review the service, a rural maternity service, that it provides a blueprint for how to go about that and the processes that should occur to engage the community in making decisions about about those services. I think that's what we'll be doing. The minister may choose to, as a matter of policy, require health services, to use that guide in any considerations of further maternity services.

Balancing the interest of providing maternity services in every little rural hospital versus having had to provide that service away from there at a place which is bigger and has more births and can provide better sustainability of service is always a challenge. The obligations on services around safety standards, around hours of rostering and so on is such, that it's really important that we get that right and it's not easy. I've been a rural GP myself in a small town in Queensland for seven years where I was on call all the time, you know. One thing is, is now we struggle to get clinicians to do that now. They have expectations, quite reasonable expectations, about actually having time off and so on. And so it is challenged to provide reliable safe services to very small towns where the numbers of births are really really small, we need to work very closely with each community to make sure that we get that balance right and that's what we're committed to doing.

That's Dr John Wakefield who's the chair of the Rural Maternity Taskforce.

More information

Visit the website for more information on the Rural Maternity Taskforce.

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Last updated: 18 February 2019