The West Coast District Health Board (DHB) says it's not responsible for ensuring its own birthing facility in Westport has enough midwives, or that women can contact a midwife when they need to.

"The responsibility for ensuring the Buller area [Kawatiri Birthing Unit] has enough midwives sits with the self-employed lead maternity carers (LMCs) who service the area," said DHB director or nursing and midwifery, Karyn Bousfield.

"They have a good understanding of the number of midwives required to provide the service."

The Westport News reported yesterday that one of Westport's two resident midwives was leaving, saying her job was financially unsustainable.


Ruth Davison, a self-employed LMC, said she had been telling the DHB for six months that her situation wasn't sustainable and unless it found another midwife she would go.

Ms Davison said Kawatiri needed three LMCs so they could provide backup when one took leave. She said she had had to pay a midwife between $300 and $700 a day to cover her caseload when she went on holiday.

Ms Bousfield said today that the DHB did not employ midwives at Kawatiri, which was a facility for self-employed LMCs to use.

The DHB employed midwives at Grey Base Hospital's McBrearty Ward, but they were not LMCs.

"They are employed to work shifts within the hospital. When an LMC brings a woman in to McBrearty Ward, they continue to provide care to their client and are supported if required by the hospital-employed team - midwives, nurses, doctors etc," she said.

Asked if the DHB had tried to obtain more locally resident self-employed midwife cover in Buller, Ms Bousfield said: "This is the responsibility of the LMC team. However, the DHB can provide support such as advertising on their behalf via our recruitment pages."

Asked whether the DHB believed two resident midwives in Buller was sustainable, she said that determination was made by LMCs.

A local expectant mother told The Westport News yesterday that she couldn't reach any of the three midwives she phoned for help last week when she feared her unborn baby had stopped moving and she wanted his heart rate checked.


After two hours she reached a Greymouth-based midwife who had been en route to Westport.

Asked today what arrangements were in place to ensure Buller women could contact a midwife when needed, Ms Bousfield said the LMCs ensured women had relevant contact numbers.

She said LMCs were funded by the Ministry of Health. The West Coast DHB had provided additional funding - which was continuing - to acknowledge the challenges of providing services in a rural environment.

Ms Davison said yesterday that most of her clients were transferring to the Greymouth-based midwife who would travel to Westport to hold clinics and birth women. She questioned how long the midwife could keep that up.

Ms Bousfield said the arrangement was sustainable long-term. She said some LMCs chose to travel to provide care.

Asked if the DHB could assure expectant mothers the current maternity care in Westport was safe, she responded: "The West Coast maternity service has a collaborative team approach with good working relationships between DHB staff and self-employed LMCs.

"We believe there is a safe and sustainable service for women and babies across the Coast.

"We work closely with the women and have had overwhelmingly positive feedback about the Kawatiri service."

- Westport News