Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has called for extra support for Middlemore Hospital as other community leaders slam "appalling" health funding for South Auckland.
Goff, who lives in Clevedon and within Counties Manukau DHB boundaries, said he was very concerned about reports of resourcing problems at Middlemore, which have been linked to the death or stillbirth of three babies.
"I welcome Health Minister David Clark indicating that additional support could be made available to deal with this," he told the Herald. "It is important that this happens as soon as possible."
Manukau and Labour Party councillor Efeso Collins labelled the situation "alarming and calamitous". The Government's Wellbeing Budget was a good step, he said, but action needed to match rhetoric.
"There has been a funding shortfall in health throughout the country, but it's more pronounced in South Auckland.
"You can't just talk about [wellbeing] and then not front up with enough funding to get these things sorted. We can't have women being pushed out of the hospital system to make way for other women - that's just unacceptable in a modern society."
Counties Manukau DHB has taken urgent steps, including hiring more staff after a damning internal review found problems like a lack of staff and bed space in maternity services contributed to the death or stillbirth of three babies, over 2016/17 and 2017/18. Other patients were seriously harmed, and thousands of women were sent home too soon after giving birth in a bid to free up capacity.
A Herald investigation has found maternity care for South Aucklanders fell below safe standards, as services struggled to cope with big increases in the number of pregnancies needing more care and monitoring.
Collins, also the chair of Otara Health, said the DHB maternity services review made for shocking reading.
"When I was reading the report I was reflecting what it was like for me and my wife when we were carrying our first and only child ... from a Samoan perspective, when someone falls pregnant those are some of the most sacred times in a family and a woman's life.
"The fact the review relates certain infant deaths to low services, poor funding, not enough beds - it is just unacceptable in today's modern health system."
An "absolute overhaul" of funding was needed now, Collins said, and a related problem was the last Census failed to reach many people in the community, meaning per-person funding could be too low.
Daniel Newman, councillor for Manurewa-Papakura, had similar concerns about the Census.
"We don't know the full extent of our community, and, therefore, we are unlikely to fund it properly ... there are a number of areas where Counties Manukau DHB is under extreme pressure. Maternity is in a state of crisis.
"I was door-knocking as late as yesterday afternoon in my ward, and I had cases emerging of people struggling to access respite care, people struggling with mental health referrals."
Deputy Mayor and Franklin councillor Bill Cashmore said the DHB had been slow to react to population growth, but that had changed under the current management.
"We have a massive population increase of over 100,000 coming over the next 25, 30 years. And we need to move quicker."
Angela Dalton, chair of the Manurewa local board, said Middlemore staff were doing heroic work, but there were simply not enough of them.
"The nurses, in particular, are stressed. It's a point of tension between patients and families and the nurses, who are doing the best they can. I think there needs to be a complete review."
Earlier this week, Health Minister David Clark hinted some relief could be on the way, saying "I expect to have more to say on that in coming weeks". Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declined to comment in detail, saying she hadn't been briefed on the maternity deaths.
Union claims 'alarmist'
Claims a lack of technicians could delay X-rays and CT scans have been strongly rejected by Counties Manukau DHB.
Medical imaging technologists (MITs) perform procedures that about 80 per cent of all hospital patients have, including X-rays, CT scans and MRIs.
Middlemore Hospital is struggling under a shortfall of 19 full-time technologist positions, says the Apex union, which represents allied, scientific and technical workers.
Apex spokesman Luke Coxon said patients with severe injury and illness or those recovering from surgery were being prioritised, and that meant delays for people sent from GPs for X-rays or CT scans.
The DHB used to book about 80 to 100 scans from GP referrals each day, and this had dropped to about five, Coxon said.
"If the MIT workforce crisis is not fixed, it is only a matter of time until patients miss their window of opportunity for life-saving treatment because they're stuck on a waitlist for diagnostic scans."
However, Counties Manukau DHB chief executive Fepulea'i Margie Apa rejected the union's statements as "alarmist and disappointing".
There are 14 full-time vacancies, but this was off-set by a "very strong" pool of bureau staff which minimised gaps in shifts, Apa said. The DHB had made four contract offers, and had 14 applications in process, and five others referred to a regulatory authority to check on ability to work in NZ.
"The MRI waitlist is the lowest it has been in two years, despite the union's claims that staffing shortages are causing delays. And the CT waitlist is under control with over 93 per cent of patients being scanned within six weeks, which is meeting our Ministry targets.
"Apex is aware of the mitigation and recruitment activities currently under way and it is extremely disappointing that information about the workforce shared as part of our partnership meetings with them is being used publicly to try to further their bargaining claims."