Health Minister David Clark. - Photo: VNP / Phil Smith
The minister of health has refused to meet with officials from the Lumsden Maternity Centre.
The rural Southland maternity centre is on the chopping block under the Southern DHB's primary maternity system of care proposal, which has outraged the local community as well as midwives in the area and mothers as far afield as Te Anau.
The directors of Northern Southland Health, which runs the centre, requested a meeting with Health Minister David Clark to express their concerns.
Northern Southland Health chair Carrie Adams said the minister's office informed them late last week that Mr Clark would not meet with them.
"[The] directors are really disappointed about that," she said.
"It's our view that given the really wide interest in this issue, and that it's a microcosm of rural health and maternity health care in New Zealand, that it really does fall squarely in his jurisdiction."
Officials from the centre continued to fight to have their voices heard and were emailing the prime minister daily about their concerns, Mrs Adams said.
The centre was too important to the community to close, she said.
"Interestingly, the facility has been really busy lately," she said.
"There's been a constant stream of babies coming through which is great because it makes everybody know that the reasons we are fighting for this place to stay open are the right reasons and it's not some sort of service that's sitting there dormant and not being used."
'Everyone deserves access to safe birthing facilities'
She pointed to the case of Te Anau mother Casey Grubb, whose second child was born in Lumsden in October, as an example of the importance of the facility in the remote rural area.
"If Lumsden hadn't been there then I have absolutely no doubt that he would have been born on the side of the road somewhere between Mossburn and Dipton," Ms Grubb told RNZ.
"It's really sad to think if it wasn't there that women in Te Anau will go through something like that."
Without the centre Ms Grubb would have had to travel an extra 50km to Winton, and if the Southern DHB's proposal went ahead roadside births were a reality facing Te Anau mothers, she said.
"I just think that everyone deserves access to safe birthing facilities and why should we suffer just because we live a fair distance from a hospital," she said.
Mr Clark and the Southern DHB declined to be interviewed by RNZ on the matter.
In a statement attributed to Mr Clark, he said he was well aware of the community's concerns and had made clear to the DHB his expectation that mothers and babies in the area continued to receive quality maternity services.
"How those services are delivered is operational matter for the DHB," the statement said.
"The minister has received requests for meetings about the centre. In the first instance he believes the community's concerns should be directed to the DHB."
Southern DHB's executive director of strategy, primary and community Lisa Gestro said 203 submissions were received in response to the system of care proposal with the majority relating to Lumsden Maternity Centre and in objection to any change to its service.
The DHB was awaiting tomorrow's budget before announcing any configuration of primary maternity services, the statement said.
The board anticipated providing a further update on what would happen next by the end of May, she said.
But Clutha District mayor and Southern Mayoral Forum chair Bryan Cadogan, said the axe hanging over the maternity centre was just the latest in a recent run of blows to rural health care in the south.
"We need to have a breather on the bad news coming out on the health sector," he said.
"As I say, Lumsden maternity, the helicopters, West Otago Health, Roxburgh Health Camp - it's consumed a fair bit of our time."
He acknowledged the government's $1.4 billion rebuild of Dunedin Hospital, but said that should not come at the expense of rural communities and other health services.
Wellington's decision-makers were out of touch with the regions, he said.
"Our rural communities are that gossamer thin with services on the ground that we don't have too much more to give. In fact I'd question if we've got anything more to give. Fiddling around with it could have cataclysmic outcomes."