Birthing services back at Weipa Hospital after 25 years of false starts

3 minute read

Queensland Health has confirmed Weipa’s as yet unused birthing suite will be open to expectant mothers on 22 May.

Birthing services will recommence at Weipa Hospital’s new birthing suite from next month onwards, a quarter of a century since services were first brought to a halt in 1999.

Expectant mothers across the Western Cape region will be able to use the services from 22 May, with 18 mothers due to give birth between 1 June and 31 August already assessed and deemed eligible to give birth at Weipa if they choose.

Michelle O’Connor, director of midwifery at Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service, has been appointed to oversee the suite’s operations alongside Dr John Hall, a rural generalist in obstetrics based in Weipa and most recently appointed Western Director of Medical Services at TCHHS.

Ms O’Connor said recruiting for the team had been “challenging”.

“However, we are confident we can now we can get on with providing a birthing service for women and families,” she said.

“The is about making sure rural and remote women get the best possible care and I am very cognisant and aware of the cultural importance of birthing and how important that is for remote women.”

Dr Hall said the challenge had been what had attracted him to the job.

“It’s so good to see the government’s practical support for local birthing and the implementation of recommendations from the rural maternity taskforce,” he said.

“I was attracted to take on the permanent Director of Medical Services role in Weipa, as a GP obstetrician because of the existing high-quality team of midwives and doctors that had a passion to open the birthing service for the local community.

“Bringing birthing back to Weipa will maintain and attract a skilled workforce that will ensure other hospital-based services thrive and continue like emergency and critical care, and ongoing access to operating theatres, enabling a broad range of operations and specialty services.’’

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Initially touted by Queensland government as capable of supporting up to 70 births a year, the birthing suite is now expected to support around 50 births for women in Weipa and surrounding communities, previously required to travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometres to deliver in Cairns or Townsville.

Although construction of the birthing suite was completed in October 2022 as part of a $9 million hospital redevelopment at Weipa, efforts to reopen maternity services have been thwarted by statewide shortages in obstetric and paediatric staff.  

In lieu of available birthing services, antenatal and postnatal services have been provided out of Weipa Hospital through a midwifery group practice since late 2022.

According to Queensland’s Minister for Health Shannon Fentiman, the new service would provide “world class maternity care” for women across the region.

“I know how important it is for women to birth on country, or close to country, and I am so proud that today we can make this possible,” she said.

“It’s fantastic to see the recruitment of midwives, doctors, First Nations health workers, nurses, allied health professionals and administration staff for the service is now complete.

“This new service will ensure more choice and safe access to maternity care for expectant mums in the Western Cape region.”

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