Mothers-to-be turned away from hospital
By Sharon Labi
The Sunday Telegraph
February 14, 2010
PUBLIC hospitals are turning away pregnant women because their maternity wards are full. Some big Sydney hospitals have introduced caps, limiting the number of bookings they will take from women with low-risk pregnancies.
Changes to the Medicare safety net that will exclude private obstetrics fees are expected to exacerbate the demand for beds, driven by the baby boom of recent years.
Obstetricians have been telling patients they have no hope of getting into some facilities such as Royal Prince Alfred Hospital (RPA), the busiest maternity unit in the State.
A Sydney South West Area Health Service spokeswoman said there had been a 40 per cent rise in the number of births at RPA between 2000 and 2005.
"To ensure the safety of all women and their babies, RPA gives priority to women with high-risk pregnancies and has introduced a cap on low-risk pregnancies," she said.
The Royal Hospital for Women, at Randwick, would take high-risk referrals from out-of-area women, but those with low-risk pregnancies who did not live in the area would be referred to their local hospital when the Royal did not have capacity, maternity services co-director Dr Daniel Challis said.
Australian Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott
Westmead Hospital has also introduced caps for women who live outside the area.
Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Ted Weaver said public hospitals would have to cope with an extra 26,000 births this year as a result of the Medicare changes.
Obstetricians report a five to 10 per cent drop in demand since the changes took effect on January 1, but say the full impact will be felt in six months.
They fear that excluding private obstetrics from the safety net and limiting rebates to $463 a year will result in poorer outcomes for women.
"If hospitals are on bypass, the women will have to go somewhere else," Dr Weaver said last week.
"Every part of the system will be under strain."
Australian Medical Association president and gynaecologist Dr Andrew Pesce said women needed to book in early.
"Unless you book really early, you get fewer choices of the hospitals you can go to in the public system," Dr Pesce said.
"Eventually, if you leave it too late, there's only one you can go to - and that's in the area where you live."
Health Minister Nicola Roxon's spokeswoman said women concerned about fees should question their specialists.
"Where there was evidence that some specialists were taking advantage of the taxpayer-funded Medicare safety net to massively increase their fees, the Government moved to cap those costs," she said.
Until December 31 last year, women could claim 80 per cent of out-of-pocket obstetrics fees after reaching the safety- net threshold.
Debora Feijo, 36 weeks pregnant, plans to give birth at Royal North Shore because of the cost of a private obstetrician.
"We'd like to have a third child, but these Medicare changes will make it even more expensive," Ms Feijo said.
Have you been turned away from a public hospital?
Until December 31, 2009: Able to claim 80 per cent of fees after reaching $1126 in out-of-pocket medical expenses
From January 1, 2010: Medicare rebates for obstetrics capped at $463
Private obstetricians report 5-10 per cent drop in business so far this year
Predictions an extra 26,000 babies will be born in public hospitals this year