By MEL MARTIN
DESPITE being in the midst of a mini baby boom, Coffs Harbour mums are no closer to getting free antenatal care, and Claire Simmonds is fuming.
The spokeswoman for the Coffs Coast Maternity Action Group was shattered when she found out this week that a government pregnancy health care service ? which was meant to open in February this year, but had been denied funding approval ? was not included in the North Coast Area Health Service 2006-07 budget.
"The provision of health care for pregnant women has long been overlooked as a priority for this area's health service bureaucrats," Mrs Simmonds said.
"Our region has a low economic profile and Coffs Harbour has the lowest profile in our region. There are no GPs who bulk bill for antenatal care, so women have to pay for a consultation with their GP or obstetrician and get what they can back from Medicare.
"Pregnant women with financial problems find themselves with nowhere to go." In fact, some women turn up to the maternity ward in labour having had no antenatal care at all, and Mrs Simmonds says that's not only appalling, it's dangerous. "Yet, you have one woman flown to Sydney in an emergency and nTo Page 5
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that's probably the budget for the clinic for a whole year. It's reverse economics," she said.
Mrs Simmonds said the problem was exacerbated with the fact that birth numbers at the Coffs Harbour Health Campus had been increasing ?- from 746 in 2003, to 764 in 2004, 864 in 2005 and a predicted 896 this year.
"We have very few obstetricians in Coffs Harbour. They must be going out of their brains with the increasing numbers," she said.
"They should only be doing high risk pregnancies. All the low risk pregnancies should be done by midwives through the clinic.
"It just isn't good enough for such a large population as Coffs Harbour. Port Macquarie has fewer births and has an antenatal clinic."
North Coast Area Health Service chief executive Chris Crawford said it was premature to say the clinic would not go ahead this year.
"We're just going through the normal budget process," he said.
"We've put our enhancement bids (supplement to base funding) into the Health Department, which will then be sent to the Minister who makes the decision."
Mr Crawford said he expected an answer be- fore the end of the year.