It’s been a long time coming, but finally the North Island is to get a unit geared toward helping new mothers who face post-natal depression or distress.
Health Minister Tony Ryall announced today an $18.2 million commitment to providing both acute in-patient beds as well as residential beds where the mother and baby can remain together, and Martin Johnston in the Herald did some good reporting on the news in today’s paper.
Lynda Williams, the coordinator of the Maternity Services Consumer Council, told me this commitment is something she and myriad consumer, health and even official organisations have been championing for many many years. She heartily welcomed the news, with a caution: “It’s not enough,” she said, “but let’s start with what we’ve been waiting 20 years for.” Williams emphasises that the new services must be set up in consultation with the consumer groups that have been fighting for it. “We have some clear ideas about how this needs to be done. Preferably it would be better to have a stand-alone unit with other support groups and services around it.”
Despite numerous well-attended meetings, support from experts, lobbying and campaigning, she suspects a crucial impetus for the move were the reports of the Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committees, which in recent years have shown suicide to be the No. 1 cause of maternal death in New Zealand.
As a (this links to a PDF) recent article in O & G Magazine (the magazine of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) points out, these maternal reviews were only reinstated six years ago, and they show that in the five years to 2010, there were 57 maternal deaths, with the three leading causes listed as suicide (13), pre-existing medical condition (11) and amniotic fluid embolism (9).
The figures and the O&G article also show that overall Māori and Pacific mothers are more likely than NZ European mothers to die in pregnancy or in the first six weeks postpartum.
The O&G piece notes that there were four deaths by suicide not included in the review figures because they took place more than 42 days (the cut-off to be counted) – though less than a year – after the women gave birth. Those 13 maternal deaths by suicide that were counted break down a bit further like this: 7 occurred during pregnancy and 6 postpartum or post-termination of pregnancy. (O&G reported that: "Eleven of the 13 deaths from suicide were by violent means.")
As well as the proposed new and much-needed mother and baby services for the North Island (there’s already a unit in the South Island), the figures clearly point to the need for support and options for all aspects of reproductive and maternal health care.