Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 5 Hansard (8 May) . . Page.. 1313 ..
MR STANHOPE (continuing):
The government has agreed to underwrite VMOs to the extent that they work in a public hospital on public patients. Towards the end of last year, as a result of pressures on VMOs and specialists, the ACT government did insure them in relation to public patients whom they see in the public system.
The difference between that particular decision of the government and the circumstance of the independent midwives is that independent midwives are working within the community and with private patients. There is a similarity in the issue, but there is a marked difference, to the extent that the only support which the government is giving-and this matches the support that has been provided in New South Wales-is that we have underwritten VMOs to the extent that they undertake public work, that is, work on public patients within the public hospital system; whereas the independent midwives are, of course, private practitioners providing a service in a private capacity to private patients.
I don't in any way draw that distinction to undermine the importance of the issue and the fact that we do need to find a solution in order to ensure that this very, very valuable service-that is, home birth and access to midwives-is available.
I have asked the department to look at the issue, and the department have been working quite consistently, for the last six months, on the issue, seeking to find a resolution to the problem. We have developed a range of options. The department has met and received representations from the Maternity Coalition; so have I.
There was significant support by the Maternity Coalition for what they understood to be the Western Australian model that was being developed. But the model that was put to me by the Maternity Coalition was different to the Western Australian experience. I understand that that is no longer the situation in Western Australia. The Western Australian government was supportive of this particular option. The Maternity Coalition and the Western Australian government did negotiate around a circumstance in which the Western Australian version of our Maternity Coalition would be subcontracted out, with independent midwives providing a service. But the Western Australian government moved away from that as a result of the difficulties around professional indemnity insurance.
The Western Australian government has established a situation in which the independent midwives who are no longer able to obtain indemnity insurance are in fact now employed by the Western Australian department of health and continue to provide home birthing services but as publicly engaged midwives. Nevertheless, they still offer a home birth service.
Through the pursuit of all the options here in the ACT, that is the option that at this stage is most attractive to the government-a similar model to that. We are continuing to pursue that. We will now consult and negotiate on the prospect of a home birth service continuing to be made available to women in Canberra. But the model that is currently being developed is that the Canberra midwifery program which operates at the Canberra