Throughout the Inquiry the Committee heard evidence from mothers, health practitioners, researchers, Victorian Government departments and others on the current situation relating to the health and wellbeing of mothers and babies during the perinatal period, and the delivery of perinatal services. The Committee received over 100 submissions and heard from over 90 witnesses at public hearings. This included seven public hearings in the regional centres of Warrnambool, Bendigo, Wangaratta, Mildura, Bairnsdale, Warragul, and Geelong.
The evidence told a story of a perinatal services system that generally offers high quality care, but a system that also has gaps that need to be addressed. These gaps include the provision of perinatal mental health care, shortages in the perinatal workforce, and a lack of breastfeeding support.
The Committee sees the need for a greater focus on, and integration of, perinatal mental health services. This is especially important as societal shifts in support structures have left some mothers and families more vulnerable to emotional and mental health problems during the perinatal period. The Committee sees this as an area in which Victoria can improve greatly, and its recommendations on this issue include the development of a Perinatal Mental Health Plan.
The perinatal workforce in Victoria is facing major challenges. This includes a shortage of midwives and nurses which needs to be immediately addressed. The Committee sees a strong midwifery workforce as essential to ensuring good perinatal health for mothers, babies, and families. The Committee is also concerned by evidence of the shortage of perinatal health practitioners across a range of professions in rural and regional Victoria. The Committee makes recommendations aimed at growing a sustainable midwifery, nursing, and rural and regional workforce.
The Committee also heard that more can be done to improve breastfeeding rates and support for breastfeeding women across Victoria’s perinatal services. The Committee found that while the benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, many women were not given the information and support they needed by health practitioners to achieve successful outcomes. The Committee makes a range of recommendations to improve breastfeeding support for Victorian women.
In addition to the issues mentioned above, the eight chapters of this report examine and describe Victoria’s current perinatal services, including oversight mechanisms and clinical governance initiatives, such as Safer Care Victoria, and regional perinatal mortality and morbidity committees. The Committee also describes the models of care available to women in Victoria, and makes recommendations to encourage models with positive outcomes. Further, the Committee examines the Maternal and Child Health Service, and particular programs for communities that face greater challenges in accessing high quality perinatal healthcare, such as rural and regional communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.