For four years, expectant mothers from Parkes have had to travel up to an hour away to Forbes, Dubbo or Orange to give birth.
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This is despite the new $72.8 million Parkes Hospital opening in 2015 with a dedicated department designed to accommodate maternity needs. But, in 2019, staffing issues meant the hospital stopped offering birthing services.
In question time on Tuesday, October 17, member for Orange Phil Donato probed health minister Ryan Park on what progress is being made to reopen the crucial service.
"Will the Minister update the House on the progress being made to reinstate permanent maternity services at Parkes Hospital, a service critical to the health and safety of expectant mothers and their newborn babies, and the future of that growing township?" he asked.
Mr Park said the health department is working to recruit staff to get the birthing service up and running again but it has been challenging to attract the talent.
"We are currently trying to recruit at Parkes - particularly midwives - through incentives of up to $20,000 to go to that hospital to reinstate birthing services," he told parliament.
"The challenge is global. That is not an excuse, it is a reality. We need to continue to lean in to doing whatever we can to ensure that we are providing high-quality antenatal, postnatal and birthing services across NSW.
"It is an issue for many people, particularly for those living in regional and rural areas."
The closure of the birthing service in Parkes was one of many issues highlighted in the NSW government's inquiry into rural and regional healthcare.
In 2021, former Parkes mayor Ken Keith gave evidence about the underutilisation of the local hospital. He said his own daughter had a "touch and go" birth 30 minutes after arriving at Orange, and was close to giving birth on the side of the road.
Mr Park told parliament he was committed to improving health outcomes in communities like Parkes.
"The department is under no illusion of the priority that I place on health care for those living in regional and rural areas," he said.
"Many of us who are lucky enough to come from the regions understand that it is an area in which we need to do better.
"I have said all along that my aim is to improve the level of health care for people living in those areas and improve their access, particularly around birthing services."
The probing in question time comes amidst a parliamentary inquiry into birth trauma which is being chaired by Emma Hurst from the Animal Justice Party.
As part of the inquiry, central west mothers have come forward with harrowing accounts of their experiences giving birth in local maternity units.
"When asked about this inquiry, I said, 'yes, it is important because we do need to do better when it comes to maternity services across NSW," Mr Park said.
"I sat in on one of the public hearings for a little while last week. I heard evidence about the challenges for people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and that the way in which we deliver services is perhaps not meeting their needs.
"We must look at the way we are delivering services in rural and regional NSW as well."
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