BUSINESS hour births remain the only option for expecting mothers in Gunnedah as health authorities try to fill the gaps in the critical service.
"Babies don't work on office hours," committee member from the Paediatric and Maternity Support group (PRAMS) Rebecca Ryan told the Leader.
"You should be able to have your pregnancy managed in town, and you should be able to present to your local hospital to have your baby.
"It's not good enough."
Currently, women continue to birth at Gunnedah hospital, on weekdays between 8am and 5pm, when an on-call GP visiting medical officer obstetrician and anaesthetists are available.
Outside of these hours, women are transferred to Tamworth or Armidale to give birth.
Ms Ryan said women should not have to put up with the "band-aid service".
"I would hate to think of any mother preparing for the birth of their child, and having that extra uncertainty around what will happen, or 'where will I be transferred'," she said.
"We're putting women in perilous situations.
Since January 1, 2023, 41 babies have been delivered at the Gunnedah hospital.
In Tamworth, the number of births is just shy of 900.
Ms Ryan, who birthed all three of her children at the Gunnedah hospital in the past two decades said she was sad that same opportunity wasn't being afforded to mothers today.
"People should be fairly angry about it."
Hunter New England Health's executive director for rural and regional health Susan Heyman told the Leader doctors training as GPs or proceduralists are getting harder to come by.
"We're certainly advertising," Ms Heyman said.
She said as well as after-hours births, expecting mothers may need to be transferred from smaller hospitals in the New England district to Tamworth for a range of reasons, not just staffing.
Expecting mothers with a complex medical history, multiple pregnancies, health concerns, or risks of early labour will be transferred to a hospital which meets their needs.
Ms Heyman said Tamworth, which is considered a "hub" or "referral" hospital, is equipped with full-time obstetrician and anaesthetists and a special care nursery.
"Our aim is to provide care as close to home as we can, but our highest priority is to make sure the clinical needs of the mum and baby are considered," she said.
On average, about two expecting mothers are transferred from Gunnedah to Tamworth to give birth each week.
In the last two months, three mothers have been transferred from Moree hospital to Tamworth for labour.
Hospitals in Moree and Inverell, where 173 babies have been delivered since the start of 2023, are serviced by long term locums or full-time obstetrician and anaesthetists.
But staff sickness, or mothers who require a high-level of care may still be transferred to Tamworth to give birth.
With mothers on the move around the health district, senior staff are trying to ensure Tamworth has the capacity to bear the potential birth brunt.
Ms Heyman said there were a number of vacancies for midwives in Tamworth, but an ongoing recruitment campaign had shown signs of success.
A new obstetrician will be joining the ranks in February, and a number of midwives in the UK have accepted offers at the Tamworth hospital.
Ms Heyman said school based trainee programs, rural incentive packages, and employment initiatives were starting to benefit wards across the New England.
"Recruitment and staffing is still very difficult," she said.
"But there's a few things in there that make it a bit more positive at the moment."
Ms Ryan said she hopes to see a "solution" in Gunnedah as soon as possible.
"If this was happening in a city area, there would be a solution by now," she said.
"But regional people have to kick and scream and get angry and are just ignored.
"The time is now to actually fix it."
Our journalists work hard to provide local, up-to-date news to the community. This is how you can continue to access our trusted content:
Sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date.