Workload relief for midwives in patient ratio reforms

Fraser Barton |

The Queensland government will legislate to set midwife-to-patient ratios in public hospitals.
The Queensland government will legislate to set midwife-to-patient ratios in public hospitals.

A long-running campaign by midwives battling heavy workloads has led to legislation aimed at making maternity wards safer in Queensland.

Minimum midwife-to-patient ratios of one to six, including babies, will be established in public maternity wards under reforms proposed by Health Minister Shannon Fentiman.

It marks the first time in Australia newborn babies will be counted as patients in such provisions.

Ms Fentiman said the laws would enable midwives to provide safer, more compassionate and comprehensive care.

“I am pleased to announce we will be introducing a bill to create midwife-to-patient ratios in our public maternity wards, and in an Australian first we will count the babies,” she told parliament on Thursday.

Shannon Fentiman
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman says the reforms will make for safer care for mothers and babies. (Jono Searle/AAP PHOTOS)

“This will mean that mums and dads receive higher quality care and midwives will not be tasked with unmanageable workloads.”

The changes follow a long running campaign by the state’s nurses and midwives over burnout. A recent survey found midwives were caring for up to 20 people on each shift.

The announcement comes after Ms Fentiman’s commitment to the new role of a chief midwife, an extension to midwife group practices and to offering home births for women from mid-2024.

Kate Veach from the Queensland Nurses and Midwives’ Union said some midwives had been dealing with patient loads nearing 20 people, and this move eases pressure on staff.

“We could not ask for any more,” Ms Veach said.

Union member and midwife Ashleigh Sullivan said the reforms would improve outcomes for mothers and babies across the state.

The bill also aims to improve access to pregnancy termination services.

Ms Fentiman said appropriately trained nurses and midwives would be allowed to administer drugs such as MS-2 Step, a type of medical abortion medicine. 

That decision was backed by the Therapeutic Goods Administration, she said. 

“We know that women still face barriers to accessing termination services, particularly in rural and remote Queensland,” she said.

“Access to these services should not depend on a woman’s postcode.”

“Nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives have had extensive training and have the qualifications to now administer this.

“This is about making sure that no matter where you live in our very big state you get access to what is a lawful health procedure.”

The move has been welcomed by MSI Australia, an independently accredited provider of safe abortion, contraception and vasectomy services.

MSI Australia said expanding medical abortion prescribers was important in reducing stigma.

“Allowing approved health practitioners to play a more prominent role in providing medical abortion increases the convenience and accessibility of these services and reduces potential barriers for people seeking timely care,” MSI’s Catriona Melville said.