Ausnew Home Care | A Tasmanian mother says the soon-to-close St Helen's mother and baby unit saved her life

A Tasmanian mother says the soon-to-close St Helen's mother and baby unit saved her life

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  • In short: A new mother-baby unit will be established at the Royal Hobart Hospital before the state's only current facility is due to close late next month.
  • What's next?  Critics say the new unit will not have as many beds as the previous service, but the Premier says it is just a "starting point". 

When Emma Helks's son Theo was born, the joyous occasion became clouded by a depression that reached dangerous levels.

"They picked up pretty quickly that I was not just going through 'baby blues', which everyone goes through," Ms Helks said.

"It was something a bit more serious."

Three months earlier, at the height of the pandemic in November 2020, the marketing and communications specialist had endured an emergency C-section at Royal Hobart Hospital after many hours of trying to induce the birth.

"[It was] one o'clock in the morning, [I was] viciously shaking in a very scary operating theatre with a very tired husband next to me, and a baby who got ripped away from us straight away as well," she said.

"I didn't get to hold him, I couldn't hold him, I was shaking so hard, but they also had to take him away."

Emma Helks lying on a hospital bed holding new-born baby, Theo.
Emma Helks says she had a traumatic experience giving birth to her son, Theo.()

After the traumatic experience at hospital, she was grateful to get home.

But with no other family in Tasmania to support her, apart from her husband, her mental health deteriorated severely.

"Postnatal depression can come in many forms," Ms Helks said.

"For me, it was anxiety and fear and invasive thoughts that were very visual about everything that could go wrong to me and my baby."

It was only after she was referred to Tasmania's only mother-baby unit at the St Helen's Private Hospital in Hobart that her outlook began to improve.

As well as getting much-needed sleep during her seven-week stay, she was able to access in-house psychologists and receive treatment such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS).

"St Helen's literally saved my life, if not my son's as well," she said.

"If I hadn't had that facility and that care, I probably wouldn't be here talking to you today."

Emma Helks sits on a chair holding 2-year-old Theo next to his bed, which is covered with a bright doona
Emma Helks says it doesn't make sense to her to have the new mother and baby unit located at the Royal Hobart Hospital.()

But last week, hospital operator Healthscope announced its impending closure.

It means that by the end of June, the unit's eight private suites, along with the hospital's other mental health services, will no longer be available for those in need.

Ms Helks cried when she heard the news.

"That place is not enough as it was," she said.

"And for even that to be taken away is devastating to an already under-financed department and the needs that mothers and babies have across this state."

Government announces new service

Jeremy Rockliff in a black suit and blue tie stands and speaks on the floor of parliament.
Premier Jeremy Rockliff says the mother-baby unit is "vital" for Tasmanian families.()

In response, the Tasmanian government on Tuesday announced plans for a new mother-baby unit at the Royal Hobart Hospital

The public service, which is expected to be operational by mid-June, will have three beds for mothers experiencing psychiatric conditions.

Those with physical maternal exhaustion, as well as feeding and settling issues, will continue to be accommodated at the hospital's paediatric ward.

"We know how vital the mother and baby unit is for Tasmanian families," Premier Jeremy Rockliff told parliament.

"Which is why we have worked hard to find a solution to ensure that people who need it can access this type of care and support in the most appropriate setting prior to the St Helen's Private closing."

A building facade behind tree branches.
The Tasmanian government says a new mother and baby unit will be opened at the Royal Hobart Hospital by mid-June.()

Ms Helks said the government's solution was woefully inadequate.

"It's like removing a bandage from a broken limb and putting a bandaid on it," she said.

"It's not enough, it never was enough, and it's even less now. It's kind of a joke."

She also questioned the placement of the new mother-baby unit within the hospital, where she was left traumatised by her birthing experience.

"It's harmful and ignorant to expect women who might have had a traumatic birth — which one in three women do — to go back to a place … if not the exact place, where that trauma happened in order to get better."

A blue hospital sign again st a red brick building and other old buildings.
Healthscope has announced it will close St Helen's Private Hospital in Hobart by the end of June.()

Dr Yvonne Turnier-Shea, a psychiatrist who works at St Helen's, said the three new beds at Royal Hobart Hospital were "a drop in the ocean" of what was needed. 

She said while they would provide support for a limited number of mothers in need of urgent care, she believed some of the preventative services currently provided at St Helen's would probably "fall by the wayside".

Dr Turnier-Shea also warned the imminent closure of more than 30 mental health beds at St Helen's would lead to a crisis in the public system. 

"In six weeks' time, there'll be a huge fallout of patients flooding the already busy GP practices, the already overloaded emergency departments," she said. 

"All those patients will be ending up somewhere, extremely distressed."

Tasmanian Labor MP Anita Dow looks past leader Rebecca White during a press conference outside Parliament
Labor's Anita Dow says mother-baby services are needed in regional areas.()

Labor's shadow health minister Anita Dow called for further details about the new mother-baby unit. 

"While the announcement is a good start for the many families that use the service, three publicly funded beds is clearly not enough to cater for the entire state, and doesn't even come close to replacing what has been lost."

Mr Rockliff said the new mother-baby unit at Royal Hobart Hospital was just the "starting point".

He said the government was also exploring ways to mitigate the impact of losing other services at St Helens, including mental health, alcohol and drug treatment and TMS. 


Source: ABC

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