Health Minister Jonathan Coleman is confident the changes required to make the Regional Women's Health Service work will be made and has backed its future.

Last week Whanganui District Health Board voted to continue to work with its neighbours, MidCentral District Health Board, despite several failings in their joint maternity initiative.

A report released a week earlier highlighted several problems with the service following seven "serious adverse events" including the death of five babies in Palmerston North and two other babies being seriously harmed, one in Whanganui.

The two health boards joined their maternity services in 2013 in response to uncertainty around obstetric cover in Whanganui Hospital in the two years previous.


Among the problems with the joint service identified in the report was that there was confusion among MidCentral staff around responsibility and accountability and "differing philosophical perspectives between clinical leaders" resulting in difficulties at leadership level.

Visiting Whanganui yesterday, Mr Coleman said the report's findings had been taken seriously by the health board's CEOs and chairs. He said links between lead maternity carers and the district health boards needed improvement. "The report makes some recommendations and one of the key things is around communications and I think you're seeing the leadership step up now to make sure the service is fit for the future," he said. Despite the problems Mr Coleman believed the joint service was worth persisting with.

"The advice I've had so far is that it is the right path ahead but it's got to be delivered properly and we've got to have a regional maternity service that delivers top outcomes that people expect and absolutely deserve.

"Obstetrics is a very difficult and complex area. Things can be going very well for nine months and then you've got an emergency within a couple of minutes."

Mr Coleman was happy with the leadership at the DHBs.

"They've stepped up to confront the problem and now they've got a plan for addressing it for the future," he said.

"It's important there's a top-class service there and obviously they'd had those tragedies and things have to change as a result but they will."