The Other Side of the World: Politics

Sunday, March 19, 2006


Lately the enviornment for midwives here has been somewhat litigous and hostile due to a couple of well-publicized cases. We are told in class that these periods come and go and are to be expected, weathered even, as the normal rythm of things. One of my lecturers was particularily incensed by the comments an Obstetrician made on the radio last week where he offered to "mentor the midwives" in obstetrics. This is absurd when it's chasing the anecdote that all my lecturers took the Obstetrical diploma exam one year (for fun) and passed with the highest standards. The following is an editorial published in the Christchurch Press this weekend that I think resoundingly voices the position of midwives in this country. Many, many years ago my father told me you couldn't believe a thing you read in the newspaper and we argued vigorously over what I viewed as his deplorable cynicism. However the last few years have made me rethink. We are a news hungry society and with the technological advances in the last 20 years, it's now a 24 hour a day industry. Satellite, Internet, terrestrial - it's everywhere, all the time. So, deadlines are tight, budgets are tight and demand is greater which may be why it seems to be more and more about sensational reporting rather than in depth informing . New Zealand midwives provide an internationally respected maternity service for almost 57,000 babies and their mothers every year. They attend women and families of all ages and ethnicities, urban and rural, for 24 hours of the day. Sometimes in rural communities they are the only health professional available. The outcomes for these women are almost without exception better than those of Australian women and babies. This is something to be proud of in a world where it is difficult to achieve health improvements on this scale. More than 2300 midwives make up a workforce of highly educated specialists in pregnancy and childbirth and sadly at the moment, many of our members are feeling their role is being misrepresented by the media. Recently, a senior reporter told us he had been instructed to “get the dirt on maternity”. An experienced freelance reporter was told her story on midwives was “too positive to print”, and there are those tabloid pleas at the end of a story asking for any other complaints about maternity services to be forwarded to the publication. These have all happened recently but it has not always been like this and I wonder what the agenda is for these media organisations? Over the last few months, several newspapers have run headlines (some front-page) which I believe are manipulative at worst and incorrect at best. Here's an example. Recently the Christchurch Press front page article which stated that the Government was looking at ending midwives so called “monopoly” on maternity. This was the paper's response to the Ministry of Health's Health Report following the Coroner's call for a review of maternity services and midwifery in particular. There was in fact no suggestion that the Government was going to end a midwife's essential role in maternity. I advised the Press the story was not correct but this advice went unheeded. The use of “monopoly” in itself is unusual when describing a core health service. I am waiting for the reports calling for the end of other monopoly professions such as dentistry! Health Minister, the Honourable Pete Hodgson, wrote immediately to the Press editor, to say “the quality of maternity care has improved dramatically…and that their story had “misrepresented the Government position… it left the impression the Government wants to weaken the position of midwives…this is inaccurate”. No headlines for the rebuttal were forthcoming. Even more recently, an advertisement was placed in the Auckland Herald, paid for by the combined DHBs in Auckland who wished to publicly promote their Obstetricians' support for midwifery and midwives in general. The doctors involved did this because of the difficulty they had with getting their positive comments relating to maternity and midwives published fully in local or national newspapers. The New Zealand College of Midwives welcomed this support. Midwives are not naïve. They understand that the news media is not there to promote the positive messages of any one organisation. However most of our members feel there just hasn't been the balance in reporting that one expects from credible media organisations. The issue the maternity service has of course is that it is such a real part of so many people's lives that it attracts the same variety of views and divisive opinions as any other life changing event. It is heavily influenced by social, cultural and family experiences and belief systems. It has a huge component of choice and consent expectations and people often go against medical (and midwifery) opinion. It is therefore a highly politicised service. In maternity, every year, hundreds of babies die. There are less and less babies dying now but there will never be none. Often we do not know why some babies die and sometimes when we do we do not have the technology to save them. However every baby that dies must be reviewed to make sure all of us learn as much as we can about the way we practice. Midwives take this responsibility very seriously. At any time, the death of a baby is a tragedy; a far reaching, devastating tragedy. It is devastating to the family, the wider community and everyone who knows that family and shares its pain. Every year midwives by the very nature of their work are with women and their families who lose a baby either before birth, at birth or soon afterwards and of course, the midwife also faces her own grief. Not unexpectedly the death of a baby attracts media attention. There have been three cases of babies tragically dying at birth over the last five years and it has been these cases that the media has gone back to month after month. The New Zealand College of Midwives is concerned that when it comes to the terribly sad news of a baby dying at birth, it appears that some members of the media are doing their utmost to take a family's personal tragedy and link the entire New Zealand maternity service in their reporting of the issue. What seems to be forgotten are the almost 57,000 midwife attended successful, happy, and in most cases wonderful, birthing experiences of New Zealand women, which sadly seem to have no significance. Or the other exceptional work midwives carry out which contributes to the fact that while the numbers of babies that die is the same, more New Zealand babies are born on time and are healthier and heavier than Australian babies despite their NZ mothers being more at the older and younger age range. More NZ mothers have normal vaginal births, less surgical intervention and significantly less trauma to their birth canal. Furthermore breastfeeding rates are increasing, and 94% of babies are receiving their six-week immunisation demonstrating the successful transfer of babies by midwives from maternity to well-child services. The College believes that what Midwives do in New Zealand is too essential to the wellbeing of women, babies and families to be considered a target to sell more papers or get more people listening or watching. We are a specialised workforce and a key element of a world class maternity system which tens of thousands of women are a part of every year in New Zealand. Midwives are not part of a criminal fringe yet, in recent times, there appears to be a real attempt by some in the media to make us appear so. Although it is not perfect and we are all constantly working to improve it wherever we can, New Zealand has one of if not the best maternity systems in the world. Balanced reporting helps us retain appropriate public confidence which in turn ensures the service maintains its ability to improve the health of society. Karen van der Leden is the BOP representative of NZCOM


Anonymous Anonymous said...

you have to much time on your hands miahn i mean mianh guss who?????????? cya

3:57 AM  
Anonymous andrew said...

You tell it like it is hun

1:52 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home