Ian Thompson, ACT Health Directorate Deputy Director General.

Ian Thompson, ACT Health Directorate Deputy Director General. Photo: Karleen Minney

Midwives may have to be recruited from overseas to help solve a staff shortage at the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children's popular birth centre.

The ACT Health Directorate confirmed on Monday an ABC report that the five-bed birth centre was being run at only about 50 per cent capacity.

Deputy Director-General Ian Thompson said a shortage of staff had prevented the hospital from offering more places for expectant mothers in the Canberra Midwifery program, which runs the birth centre.

"Because it's a midwifery-led model of care you need to have people with a reasonable level of experience and expertise,'' he said.

Mr Thompson said a national recruitment campaign was under way for more staff.

''We are conducting national advertising campaigns for experienced midwives. We are also hoping to engage more graduate midwives as we do in other years. The issue is, of course, a new graduate midwife is not necessarily the sort of midwife who would automatically work in the Canberra midwifery program,'' he said.

Mr Thompson said midwives might have to be sought from overseas. "If it becomes necessary we will go overseas as well,'' he said.

The birth centre offers a "home-like'' birth environment, with women usually leaving hospital a few hours after their babies are born.

"The birth centre is for people in the Canberra Midwifery program who have uncomplicated pregnancies and births,'' Mr Thompson said.

"Where during labour there are complications, people will frequently be transferred out of the birth centre. That level of occupancy of the birth centre needs to take into account that 35 per cent of people who would have liked to use the service were not able to.''

The Centenary Hospital opened in August last year.

About 600 women gave birth each year in the birth centre in the old Canberra Hospital maternity unit.

Australian Nursing Federation ACT branch secretary Jenny Miragaya said the Health Directorate had already recruited extra maternity staff and appeared to be making a genuine effort to employ more midwives.

"Certainly they have been trying to recruit, but unfortunately there is a national and international shortage of experienced midwives, so that will take a period of time,'' she said.

The ACT government has promised to open a two-bed birth centre at Calvary Hospital in Bruce.