With the Federal budget just out, Yass Valley has made an encouraging appearance with $4.7 million promised to restore maternity services at Yass District Hospital over 2023 to 2024. The promise delivers on Labor’s election commitment and is part of a $6.5 million commitment to hospital services in regional NSW communities, with Eurobodalla to also receive funding for radiation therapy across their region.

Barton-babies-Aymon & Lindsay Hollingsworth after Lindsay birthed baby Selena at Jeir Creek rest stop, Barton Highway

A 2020 Yass Maternity Clinical Services Plan (Review) stated,  “A return of comprehensive maternity or low risk birthing from Yass Health Service is not considered feasible, sustainable, viable or safe based on the current information available. Significant investment in infrastructure and workforce would be required to support the service which is not justified by the current utilisation data, projected growth and proximity and preference indicated for services provided in the ACT by Yass women.”

 However, this may now change with the addition of funding. 

According to the Federal budget, the regional hospital services funding will be held in the Contingency Reserve until final details are settled following negotiations with the NSW Government. 

“The Government’s commitment to restore maternity services to the Yass District Hospital is consistent with commitments made at the 2019 Federal election and the 2020 Eden-Monaro by-election,” said Federal Member for Eden-Monaro, Kristy McBain. 

2020: Kristy McBain Labor candidate centre – Shadow Federal Health Minister Chris Bowen – Local mother & local birthing advocate Lindsay Hollingsworth on left

“Yass is expected to grow to more than 26,000 people by 2036. Improved medical services will be integral for the future of the Yass Township and surrounding communities,” Ms McBain added. 

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns visited Yass Hospital shortly after the budget was handed down last Wednesday and expressed the importance of maternity services at Yass Hospital.

“Good news that the Federal budget selected that $4.7 million commitment. Obviously it’s much needed, we can’t have a situation where babies are being born on the Highway. We need these ground level important pieces of infrastructure, particularly in growing communities like Yass,” he said.

Mr Minns explained the NSW Labor Opposition will be beginning their cooperation with the Federal Government as soon as possible. 

“It’s dependent on a cooperation between the State and the Federal, so we want to start that cooperation from Opposition. We’re going to almost immediately organise a meeting between ourselves and Kristy McBain, who obviously has good links with the Federal Government and is a local MP, to start working out how we can make sure that that’s integrated quickly, and that that commitment can be met if we’re able to win Government in March next year.”

Photo caption: Cr Jasmin Jones – New Yass Hospital with Maternity working group mum, NSW Labor candidate for Goulburn Michael Pilbrow, NSW Nurses & Midwives Assoc. Yass Branch President Paul Haines, NSW Opposition Leader The Hon. Chris Minns, Rebecca  Duncan – New Yass Hospital working group mum, The Hon Tara Moriarty MLC & Shadow Minister for Medical Research.

This $4.7 million promise could not have happened without the persevering advocacy from Yass mothers, community members and leaders.

Yass Valley Deputy Mayor Cr Jasmin Jones, herself a mother of five, began advocating for maternity services at Yass around eleven years ago, shortly after her third baby was born on the Barton Highway in a dangerous effort to arrive at Canberra in time. Her experience has not been uncommon for other Yass mothers, who have birthed in ambulances and cars, at truck stops and curbsides, often without support from their midwives or doctors. 

“This has been over a decade of advocacy for Yass Valley mums and babies, and it’s so good to see this commitment from Kristy McBain and the federal Labor Party delivered in the budget. This gives us confidence to lobby the NSW Government and the NSW Opposition to also commit to delivering this,” said Cr Jasmin Jones. 

The Albanese Labor’s first federal budget has delivered $4.7 million to restore local birthing & maternity in Yass, pending the cooperation of the NSW State Government

Rebecca Duncan is another Yass local who has been fighting for maternity services at Yass Hospital since 2018. 

“Anxiety about birthing on the Barton is real. Reducing risks to mums and bubs and being supported in our local community will benefit so many families in our growing region,” said Mrs Duncan. 

“We will have close to 30,000 living here by 2036. It’s not just mothers and babies who will benefit from safe local birthing options. With maternity services comes other services that we are desperate for, like doctors rostered 24/7, onsite pathology, etcetera, that will help the whole Yass Valley community. We are also pushing for local dialysis and a CT scanner, just as they have in Forbes— a shire slightly smaller than ours. Chronic illness is hard enough without having to travel to Canberra or Goulburn all the time for life saving treatment,” she continued.

“Our hospital has been deliberately gutted over decades and we are paying the price. You’d think our Premier, as a father of 7, would understand our plight but it appears not. Would he accept a risky highway birth for his wife and child?” challenged Mrs Duncan.

Mrs Duncan explained that the next steps to making maternity services at Yass Hospital a reality are in the hands of the NSW Government.

“We were confident Kristy would deliver on her promise, and now that she has, the NSW Government has to step up. We’ve got a State election in March. The Government has known for more than a decade that the rural health system across this state is an absolute disgrace, and yet they steadfastly refuse to give country people the health services they need to survive. We, the people, can send a strong message at the ballot box that this must not go on. We pay taxes too, and we support our amazing doctors and nurses,” said Mrs Duncan.

“It is outrageous that a population of almost 20,000 people can’t birth locally. We have the local qualified staff available (who don’t want to commute to Canberra), we have the site, now we just need to see it come to fruition. Our wonderful health professionals have battled for too long, grossly understaffed, and they’re beyond breaking point,”

As Mrs Duncan points out, as well as maternity services, Yass is in need of a full-time doctor at Yass Hospital. Not long ago, the community presented a strong petition to the NSW parliament for a new Yass Hospital with maternity. 

Announcing his candidacy for the seat of Goulburn on the same day, local businessman Michael Pilbrow was by Mr Minns side at Yass Hospital on Wednesday.

Labor’s candidate for the Goulburn seat in the upcoming NSW March 23 election Michael Pilbrow with NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns

NSW Opposition Leader Chris Minns said it may be the case that bringing maternity services to Yass could be a mechanism for achieving a full-time doctor.

“We’re certainly at the time now in the election cycle where we’re listening to the community and making sure that our policies that we take to the next election, and I know Michael believes this too, will be reflected in what the community wants, and we want to approach this election based on ideas. We would love people to make a decision about who to vote for based on who they think has got the best idea for the vision of the State of NSW. We’re convinced that’s us, but that’s only going to happen if we listen to the community and reflect what they’re telling us,” said Mr Minns.

Yass nurse and President of the Yass branch of NSW Nurses & Midwives Association, Paul Haines, also met with Mr Minns to inform him of the challenges local nursing staff are facing.

Mr Minns explained Labor plans to further support Yass Hospital by achieving nurse-to-patient ratios, a concern nurses across the state have been continually advocating for, even to the extent of statewide strikes.

“We’ve announced safe staffing levels for NSW Public hospitals, that’s a key election commitment and one of our biggest election policies that we’re taking to the people in March 2023. We think it’s a key distinction between us and the current government. In practical terms it means an additional $175 million over the forward estimates and a recruitment of 1200 additional nurses. If you look at the government’s recruitment pipeline, that is achievable, but you do need to have a government that’s committed to making change,” said Mr Minns.

“If you listen to frontline nurses, those who got us through the COVID-19 pandemic, they’ll say they need help. If you look at the fact that interstate, and in other jurisdictions they are prepared and willing to recruit NSW nurses, as well as the private sector, as well as the aged care sector, unless we make a big change now, we’ll lose people who won’t return to public health in NSW, and we’ll never get them back.”