The perplexing thing about the boost to maternity services funding announced this week by Health Minister Tony Ryall is that it didn't happen much sooner.
Why on earth did the Labour Government resist spending a relatively miserly $103.5million extra on longer hospital stays and the like for new mums? It's such a no-brainer, not to mention a vote-getter for the thousands of people who are either new parents themselves or related or close to them.
The funding for a 24-hour Plunketline is another welcome development. Why the previous Government refused extra funding to this service remains a mystery, notwithstanding the fact that it believed all health-related questions could be answered by its main health helpline...
The sad thing about Plunketline is that it has become even more vital to new parents because funding to actual on-the-ground Plunket services is ever-shrinking. So, while it is great to have a 24-hour Plunketline, we should not become complacent. A phone service is NOT as good as a "family centre" service that offers nurses, a cot for baby and a bed for frazzled mum. Family centres are ultimately funded by Plunket fund raising, and the organisation is having to become increasingly canny about the ways in which it taps the public purse.
Lest we forget that establishing breastfeeding can only be helped along so much over the phone. Staying in hospital longer is a great way to help encourage breastfeeding, but if midwives and nurses and lactation consultants are too bogged down and overworked the extra stay for mums will only make so much of a difference...
Just under $10 million has been ring-fenced to fund an optional consultation each trimester for at-risk mothers with their GP and lead maternity carer (LMC). This is also a welcome move although in theory a good LMC should be seeing women just as much as they need to be seen in order to keep things moving along nicely.
And Mr Ryall's extra funding for GPs to brush up on their obstetric skills is all very well, but as most GPs won't touch obstetrics with a barge pole it's not going to add much. If only Mr Ryall would address the biggest issue in maternity services - the constant turf wars between midwives and doctors for the maternity dollar - we'd know he was serious about shaking things up.
Much has been said about Australia's brilliant and wonderful healthcare system. I know there are many people who have had brand new facilities to give birth in, well paid, happy professionals attending, and a great big lump of cash from the Aussie Government to help them once they get home with their new bub.
Which is all well and good, but the stories I hear are often different. Several women I have spoken to about giving birth in Australia are only seen very sparingly by their midwives. They are not scanned, often, until their pregnancy is half way over - one would think a bit of a late marker to do anything about serious problems with the baby. One woman I know well was almost sent home when she was already in labour after the most cursory of examinations.
Yes, it can all happen in New Zealand, and with bells on. But to me it re-enforces the point that you can get good and bad health service anywhere - either extreme usually comes down to timing, who was rostered on that day and how they feel, and a good dollop of either incredibly good, or incredibly bad, luck.
My son to me the other morning: "Mum, where did you buy my eyes from?".
Me: [a hamfisted explanation of always having his own eyes... flabbing and flubbering... and then] ..."you were born with them."
Him: "Mum, can I have Wiggles eyes?
- Dita De Boni
Pictured above: Health Minister Tony Ryall. Photo / Mark Mitchell