Growing demand spawns Victoria's first midwife clinic
Midwife Kelly Langford from Midwives and Mothers Australia (MAMA) checks the health of mother-to-be Lexie Wood with Ms Wood’s partner, Nathan Evers. Photo: Angela Wylie
WOMEN are flocking to private midwives to gain access to cheaper services under Medicare, and the demand has led to Victoria's first midwife clinic.
Two years ago, federal changes allowed eligible private midwives to offer Medicare rebates for some pregnancy services.
To December, national Medicare figures show that 152 eligible private midwives had provided 30,264 services to pregnant, birthing, and postnatal women.
Monthly Medicare rebates for private midwife services more than doubled to 2475 in November last year, compared with November 2011, when 1064 services were claimed.
In Victoria, 193 Medicare services were claimed in November 2011; a year later the figure was 467.
This demand has led to Victoria's first private midwife clinic, Midwives and Mothers Australia, which runs like a doctors' clinic with allied health services.
Started by private midwives, Jan Ireland and Kelly Langford in Kensington in September 2011, MAMA has grown to include 10 private midwives at three clinics, with more planned.
''Women have always wanted to have this, and midwives have wanted to provide it,'' Ms Ireland said.
''Private midwives until now have been considered something for people who wanted a home birth but the [Medicare] reforms have changed that,'' she said.
Under the system, home births do not qualify for rebates, but women can choose to have shared care and a hospital birth if a hospital recognises private midwives for shared care.
The Royal Women's Hospital is the only one in Victoria to recognise shared care officially with private midwives, but only as an advocate at the birth, which meant they missed out on claiming a $740 rebate. Two Queensland hospitals recognise private midwives, including at the birth, and this has helped that state generate one-third of the national Medicare rebate figures.
Lexie Wood, 37, of Kensington, is 26 weeks pregnant with her first baby. She sees MAMA midwives for most of her appointments, but would have to double up on some scheduled appointments if the Women's did not recognise private midwife shared care.
''We don't feel like we are part of the system and we are getting personalised care,'' Ms Wood said.
''It is very personalised, but that's not to say that the Women's have been bad but the waiting room, it is pretty daunting,'' she said.
Ms Wood's partner, Nathan Evers, said they probably would have used a private midwife even without the rebate because it offered flexibility so he could attend appointments, too.
''It would probably have been a bit harder [without the rebate],'' Mr Evers said.
Ms Langford said newly arrived migrants and international students who were not eligible for Medicare had also used the MAMA service because it is a third of the cost of public hospital care.
Joy Johnston, spokeswoman for representative Victorian group Midwives in Private Practice, said if more hospitals recognised private midwife shared care it could reduce the strain on public hospitals' midwife services.
''If hospitals would only see sense, we could relieve some of the burden on their hospitals,'' Ms Johnston said.
Professor Hannah Dahlen, national spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives, described the reforms as ''potentially the best reforms for maternity services in a century'', but more hospitals needed to recognise the care of private midwives.