Professor: Rural women risk health giving birth near homes

RURAL women are giving birth in unprepared emergency rooms with under-trained staff to avoid having to spend weeks away from their communities and families, according to a Queensland expert.

Regional outposts in western Queensland may have almost no access to health services, aside from a GP and nurse, neither of which may have any specific training on delivering a child.

For this reason, once a woman reaches the 36-week mark, she is to be transferred to major referral centres often along the coastline - Gladstone, Rockhampton, Mackay or Townsville are options.

Queensland Centre for Mothers and Babies - part of the University of Queensland - is this week running the Townsville Rural Birth Summit to discuss the difficulties plaguing mothers in rural centres.

QCMB director Sue Kruske said unless the medicos in these outlying areas are capable of performing an emergency caesarean, mothers are currently sent elsewhere.

One solution would be to allow specifically trained maternity nurses to perform low-risk births locally but referring only ones at higher risk.

If proper care was given prior to deliver, Prof Kruske said, the chances of a "catastrophic complication" was one in a million.

For those referred elsewhere, it can mean having to pay for six weeks accommodation in a distant town or city.

"That causes a great deal of emotional distress, particularly when they have other children."

Some were arriving to the emergency department in the midst of labour to avoid transfer.

The number of deliveries occurring "on the side of the road" was also increasing.

Prof Kruske said this was a "fork in the road" for rural maternity services.

"We either reclaim birth in rural areas or it will cease to exist," she said.