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Waikato DHB responds to national neonatal deaths report

Waikato DHB has welcomed a national Health Quality and Safety Commission report into perinatal and neonatal deaths in New Zealand.

The report recommends that the DHB investigate why there is a higher rate of neonatal deaths in the Waikato region.

Dr Doug Stephenson, Clinical Lead, Quality and Patient Safety said there were 5,270 births in the Waikato in 2014 and sadly 18 of those babies died – which is three more than the national average.

“We will review this report to understand why our rates are higher, review the cases in the report to see if there are any trends that we can learn from and identify areas where we can improve,” he said.

He said the DHB’s neonatal encephalopathy (abnormal neurological function) rates had improved and were now at the national average. The most common cause of neonatal death was babies being born extremely premature followed by congenital abnormalities (birth defects) then neurological cases, often caused by low oxygen levels at the time of delivery.

The Waikato DHB, as a tertiary provider, takes complex cases from across the Midland region. It also includes some of the most remote geographic areas in New Zealand and sadly, by the time a mother reaches a hospital or birthing unit it may be too late to intervene and save the baby.

Dr Stephenson said: “We don’t want even one neonate to die but sometimes, whatever we do the outcome is going to be poor. In other cases there might be lessons we can learn to improve our service and reduce the chance of similar events in the future. We want to eliminate unnecessary delays, increase earlier detection of potential problems and ensure all health professional staff communicate well with patients and each other and are available to help at the right time.”

Women’s Health Commissioner Tanya Maloney, who is leading a Taskforce to transform the Women’s Health service at the DHB, says it will be important to fully investigate the findings of the report so that the DHB can focus its efforts on improving services for women and babies.

“We are currently working closely with our senior doctors to redesign the Women’s Health service so that it meets the complex needs of our region and is more responsive and accessible for patients. We want to provide more regular clinics and improve continuity of care where women receive consistent care from a team of clinicians over time.”

She said there had been a strong response to a recent recruitment campaign and four new senior doctors would be joining in the next three months. “The changes we are making in the service to a more contemporary, team based approach, will improve training and support for resident medical officers and most importantly, will improve the continuity of care for our patients.”

Ms Maloney said she was pleased with the progress made by the Taskforce in designing a new team structure and ensuring clinical staff are organised to enable collaborative and consistent care for women. The work of the Taskforce also includes improving the culture and leadership of the Women’s Health service and developing a strong training and education programme.

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