Count the babies win: Queensland to introduce midwifery ratios

Count the Babies
After years of campaigning by the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union (QNMU) to have babies counted as separate patients on postnatal maternity wards, the state government has committed to introducing landmark minimum midwife-to-patient ratios across public hospitals.

The move, made possible by changes to the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill (No.2) 2023, will establish a ratio of one midwife to every six patients, and importantly will count babies as a separate patient when they are staying in the same hospital room as their birth parent.

According to QNMU Secretary Kate Veach, under existing federal law, Queensland babies have not been counted as additional patients alongside their mother, nor included in midwives’ workloads. It’s the same story across all other states and territories.

The Queensland Government’s decision to ‘Count the Babies’ now sets the standard for midwifery ratios across the country, she said.

Ensuring each baby is counted as an additional patient alongside the mother is an Australian first,” Ms Veach said.

“Once the legislation is passed, Queensland Health will lead the way in the provision of safe, public postnatal maternity care in Australia.”

The legislative change follows years of campaigning by the QNMU and its members for mandated midwifery ratios to keep mums, bubs, and midwives safe. A recent QNMU ‘Count the Babies’ audit of a number of public inpatient maternity wards found midwives were routinely being allocated up to 20 women and babies at a time.

QNMU member and midwife, Ashleigh Sullivan, said Queensland Health midwives have continued to work hard, often under extreme duress, to keep those in their care safe. Now, the nation-leading midwifery ratios will enable midwives to provide best quality care that will improve outcomes for women and babies. It will also help attract skilled midwives to the state.

“At the moment, midwives are overloaded, with many experiencing burnout and being forced to leave the public system and the jobs they love,” Ashleigh said.

The announcement of midwifery ratios will ensure Queensland Health midwives feel valued, supported, and heard. It will also enable midwives to provide Queensland women and babies the level of care they need and deserve.

Announcing the midwifery ratios last week, Queensland Health Minister Shannon Fentiman said ensuring the state’s mothers have access to world-class maternity care was a high priority for the government.

“Counting babies as a separate patient to their parent will ensure our extraordinary midwives can provide safer, more comprehensive, and more compassionate care to families, Ms Fentiman said.

This is something our midwives have been calling for, for years, and I want to acknowledge the tireless advocacy of our incredible frontline health staff.

The QNMU is now awaiting further detail from the Queensland Government on when the midwifery ratios will be rolled out. Additional midwives will be needed to meet the ratios, QNMU Secretary Kate Veach pointed out, calling for a state workforce plan and increased funding to address existing, and forecast, staff shortfalls.

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