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A $500,000 fund to allow Queensland’s rural midwives and doctors to rotate through larger urban hospitals in a bid to keep their job skills current is among several actions proposed in response to the state’s Rural Maternity Taskforce report handed down this week.

It is hoped the scheme will also attract and retain more clinicians out bush.

Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said the project aimed to maintain the skills of clinicians working in small towns that experience very low numbers of births.

“We are proposing a trial where, for example, a midwife from Chinchilla could spend a few weeks a year living and working in Toowoomba or the Gold Coast or even Melbourne to make sure they see enough births,” he said.

Some clinicians might relish the opportunity and flexibility to work in different environments and a bigger city, he added.

“We want to attract more staff to regional areas, and if this helps even better.”

Other actions triggered by the report include health services being ordered to strengthen their rural and remote facilities and any future cuts to services now requiring special ministerial approval before progressing.

Similarly, plans have already been announced to reinstate a low-risk birthing unit at Weipa Hospital to accommodate an estimated 70 births each year.

“I think the need for ministerial approval will ensure health services do everything they can to keep vital rural and remote health services open,” Mr Miles explained.

The independent Queensland Rural Maternity Taskforce was established in August 2018 to investigate the state’s current services and identify areas of improvement to strengthen rural maternity access and outcomes.

Its report handed down this week made six recommendations for consideration by the Queensland Government, including Queensland Health undertaking comprehensive system-wide planning of rural maternity service provision and health services developing a guide for women that summarises their local maternity model options.

Mr Miles said the taskforce uncovered health services had not properly considered the effect on mothers when deciding to shut down services and were overly focused on clinical risks and not enough on the effect travel has on expectant mothers and their families.

Under the proposed government actions, health services will have two years to examine their maternity services in the bush and determine if there are ways to attract and retain staff, keep staff skills current and implement service upgrades.

Taskforce member and Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union Assistant Secretary Sandra Eales said the Rural Maternity Taskforce Report focussed on boosting rural services tailored to women’s needs that had long-term viability.

“The important things are the intent to strengthen and reopen primary and secondary maternity units in the bush,” Ms Eales said.

“It’s important to provide continuity of care locally. Relational care is highly valued by the women; it keeps them feeling safe.”

Ms Eales listed the safety of clinicians as another important issue.

“Another vital aspect is psychological safety – that is, the professional safety of clinicians on the ground is necessary to ensure that services in the bush are sustainable for the communities they serve.”

The Taskforce’s rural consumer representative, Bec Waqanikalou, labelled the report a win for rural and remote communities.

“From a consumer’s point of view, I’m happy to see two things from the report,” she said.

“One, there is the security that further services won’t be lost without consultation with the consumers and community, and the final decision will be scrutinised by the Minister and two, there’ll be opportunity for new services to be provided closer to a woman’s home, their family and support network.”

Read the full report