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Personal delivery for petition aimed at saving St George's Hospital maternity unit

Christchurch midwives and their supporters will today march to St George's Hospital to hand-deliver a petition backed by more than 30,000 people to keep the maternity unit open.

Gemma and Richie McCaw are supporting the petition to save St George's Maternity Centre.
Gemma and Richie McCaw are supporting the petition to save St George's Maternity Centre. Photo: Instagram / gemflynn

The fight to save St George's has attracted the support of sports stars Richie and Gemma McCaw, whose daughters were cared for at the hospital, along with city councillor and Canterbury District Health Board member James Gough.

Rata Midwives staff will join other campaigners on a march to the hospital to present their Save St George's Birthing Unit petition to its chief executive Blair Roxborough in person.

Midwife Sheena Ross, who organised the petition, said she was thrilled with the response and hoped it would influence St George's decision-makers.

"The idea of delivering a petition in the Kate Sheppard Christchurch-style is something we really wanted to do," she said.

"The thing we're most thrilled about is that it's been mainly grassroots, it's been the community. Ordinary families, ordinary whānau have come together going, no, actually we really love this service and we don't want it stopped."

The private hospital, which is the only primary birthing unit in Christchurch, has a contract with the Canterbury District Health Board to provide publicly funded maternity services.

The deadline for staff submissions on a proposal for change that includes an option to close the maternity ward indefinitely falls tomorrow.

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St George's Hospital. Photo: St George's Hospital

Roxborough declined an interview request, but said in a statement that management was working with the hospital's midwives.

"We have received many emails and phone calls about the future of St George's maternity," he said.

"We are working closely with our maternity team, having presented them with a proposal about the future of the St George's Maternity Centre."

Women can choose to give birth at a hospital, a primary birthing unit - for healthy people with no pregnancy complications - or at home.

Ross said midwives were deeply concerned St George's maternity centre would close, leaving Christchurch without a primary birthing unit until the DHB's new city unit opens next year.

She said home-like primary birthing units were ideal for women with uncomplicated pregnancies, but women would be forced to go to Christchurch Women's Hospital if St George's closed, stretching resources meant for acute care.

"If Christchurch Women's is too full, then those unwell women will have less access to care. There will be fewer beds available, they'll be sent home quicker postnatally. You can only stretch a service so far," she said.

Gemma McCaw told RNZ last month the postnatal care she received at St George's after the birth of her two daughters, Charlotte and Grace, made all the difference.

"Birth is a big process but getting that immediate care afterwards was just amazing for me," she said.

The DHB's executive director of midwifery and maternity services, Norma Campbell, has previously said the board has "no visibility over the proposal for change" because St George's is a private hospital.

St George's current contract with the DHB expires in June next year.

Documents show St George's is contracted for about 385 labours, deliveries and postnatal stays and up to 870 postnatal transfers from Christchurch Women's Hospital per year.

A new 10-bed primary birthing unit is due to open in Rolleston early next month, when the six beds at Lincoln Maternity Hospital will close.

The DHB's new 20-bed unit next to Christchurch Hospital is due to open in the middle of next year.

A primary birthing unit in Burwood closed in 2016.