Two Whanganui District Health Board committees have agreed to support the Regional Women's Health Services development plan, and have unanimously recommended the board adopts the plan.
The Community and Public Health Advisory Committee (CPHAC) and Hospital Advisory Committee (HAC) met last week to discuss the plan with clinical staff who helped develop it.
The plan sees the women's health services of Whanganui and MidCentral district health boards brought together under a single management, leadership and clinical governance structure.
However, specialist services would still be provided 24/7 at both Wanganui and Palmerston North.
The plan will be implemented in two phases. In the first phase, the two existing services will be brought together with a single management structure. The second phase is focused on "continuous quality improvement".
The plan takes a "one population, many communities" approach to delivering women's health services. MidCentral Health will be contracted to provide the regional service, with staff continuing to be employed by their home DHB, except for leadership positions.
New positions will include a gynaecology clinical nurse specialist, and a one-year position for a "change manager".
From a woman's perspective, accessing the service across the region, initially there will be little change to present arrangements.
Digby Ngan Kee, regional clinical director of obstetrics and gynaecology for both Whanganui and MidCentral district health boards, Mark Stegmann, obstetrician and gynaecology consultant at Wanganui Hospital and Cheryl Benn, regional midwifery advisor, all attended the CPHAC meeting and answered a number of board members' questions about the plan.
CPHAC chairwoman Kate Joblin wanted to know whether Wanganui Hospital would still recruit its own staff.
Business manager Tracey Schiebli confirmed it would.
"We wouldn't abandon recruiting just because the service is run by MidCentral," she said.
Dr Stegmann said there was an opportunity for women's health services staff to work as one team across both sites.
"When we have people on leave or sick, staff can cover for each other. We would recruit on the understanding that staff may work at both hospitals, and for some people that could be an added attraction," he said.
Committee member Judith MacDonald said some women already had trouble understanding how the health system worked.
"Will this [shared service] not simply make it worse for those women?" she asked.
Dr Benn said that had already identified as a potential problem and work was underway to try and find solutions.
"We know there are some women who don't know how to find a midwife. We plan to set up resource centres to address that, and we will work with the GPs around that as well," she said.
Committee member and midwife Robyn McDougal said she was concerned that the midwife manager's position would only be a part-time one.
"They will be working across two DHBs - and bear in mind we don't have a stable workforce in Wanganui. I think there's a risk that the job may not be done properly, just because it's only part-time," she said.