Expectant mothers in the Waimarino area will now have to travel more than an hour to give birth after the temporary closure of the Waimarino Health Centre's birthing unit.
In a letter seen by the Chronicle and sent to expectant mothers in the Waimarino region, the Whanganui DHB said birthing facilities at the Raetihi-based clinic would be "temporarily unavailable".
Women will now have to travel to Whanganui Hospital to give birth - almost an hour and a half's drive.
The loss of services stems from the area's full-time midwife standing down, as of November 15.
November 15 marked the final day for frontline healthcare workers to receive their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, or face being stood down.
The DHB would not be drawn on the reason for the clinic's closure, citing privacy.
But in a public social media post, Katie Brewis, a midwife with the Waimarino practice for the last 12 years, said she was stood down due to her wish not to be vaccinated against Covid-19.
In the post, Brewis acknowledged that her standing down would cause the area's only facility to be closed.
"I'm sorry that again your choice to birth locally, either at the unit or at home has been taken away from you. I'm sorry that there will be no midwife in the middle of the night which is when you most often need us. I'm sorry that my informed decision that sits best with me has such a huge impact on you," Brewis said.
"It is one of the heaviest and most difficult decisions I've ever had to make."
In the letter sent to expectant parents, the DHB said it understood the inconvenience of travelling to Whanganui and was willing to assist patients with the journey.
"We will pay for an ambulance to bring you to Whanganui, or if it works for you, we can provide petrol vouchers to help you get to Whanganui Hospital."
The letter said the hospital's whānau accommodation facility would also be available for a support person of the pregnant mother.
In a statement, a Whanganui DHB spokesperson said some midwifery care remained available in the area, including ante and post-natal screening and other appointments.
The DHB said it could not confirm when a new midwife would be employed, but pledged to work with the community on ensuring that happened as soon as possible.
The loss of birthing services in Raetihi comes after the town also lost its main full-time GP, according to local leaders.
Ruapehu is in a "difficult situation" - local MP
Rangitīkei MP Ian McKelvie, whose electorate covers the Ruapehu district, said the requirement to travel would be difficult for a number of local families reliant on the existing services.
"What we've got to realise here is that a lot of these families have no money. Mothers have to travel to Whanganui, with the father left at home with the kids and a job to hold down," McKelvie said.
"The worst thing for these rural communities with no birthing units is just the disruption and the cost to families that can't afford it."
McKelvie said ensuring that healthcare workers were vaccinated was the right approach.
"Whilst I think it's a very difficult situation for us to be in, I think on the whole there's some reason to mandate these sorts of things in some circumstances, and I think health and education are two of them."
According to the latest vaccination figures broken down by suburb, Raetihi has some of the lowest vaccination uptake anywhere in the country, with just over half of the population fully vaccinated.
Only 50.5 per cent of the population is fully protected in Raetihi, while 11km up the road in Ohakune that figure is at 74.1 per cent. Nationwide, 81.8 per cent of New Zealand's population is now fully vaccinated.
Whanganui MP Steph Lewis and midwife Katie Brewis were contacted for comment.