New GP obstetrics model for Ararat

East Grampians Health Service obstetric service is undergoing change to ensure that there is a future for people from the local and surrounding areas to receive antenatal care and birth in Ararat.

The maternity service at EGHS has been facilitated over many years by the tireless dedication of key GP obstetricians. Between them, Dr Michael Connellan, Dr Pieter Pretorius and Dr Chee Sheng Wong have delivered over a thousand babies at EGHS, allowing families to have continuity of care and safe, low-risk deliveries close to home. This care has occurred through a Visiting Medical Officer (VMO) model, with these GPs undertaking a significant amount of on-call work in addition to their general practice work to be available for the women they are caring for when they deliver.

“The on-call component is a significant burden on the doctors and their families. I thank them for their commitment to the health service and the community,” Chief executive Nick Bush said.

Dr Connellan, Dr Pretorius, and Dr Wong have made the difficult decision to take a step back from deliveries. Dr Wong has now concluded this part of his practice.

“Dr CS Wong has shown a very strong commitment to the community of Ararat and district. This includes leaving Ararat to train as an obstetrician to allow the service to continue,” Mr Bush said.

Dr Connellan and Dr Pretorius will continue to support the service during its transition to a new model by providing some cover.

While they will continue to make an invaluable contribution to the provision of continuity of care for families in Ararat, including for women in the antenatal and postnatal period, the loss of these experienced clinicians from the obstetric service at EGHS presents a significant challenge—one common to many small rural birthing services across Australia. EGHS is taking a proactive approach to ensuring the long-term sustainability of birthing services and has developed a new GP obstetric care model going forward. In a departure from the VMO model, EGHS will directly employ three GP obstetricians who will provide services on a rotating roster. This approach will be team-based, with each GP obstetrician on-call for all deliveries that occur while they are on duty for a block of two weeks.

Dr Megan Helper completed her GP training and consolidation in GP obstetrics in Ararat in 2016-17 and returned 18 months ago to fill gaps in the obstetric roster. Over the past nine months, she has taken a keen interest in developing the new GP obstetric model. She will continue as one of the three clinicians participating in this model.

The recruitment of a second GP obstetrician into the new model, Dr Winnie Yum, who commenced at EGHS earlier this month, is an important step forward. Dr Yum completed her obstetric training in Mount Isa with further consolidation in Alice Springs and Tasmania.

“We’re very fortunate to have recruited Dr Yum. Having her come on board as a colleague gives me confidence that we are well on the way to securing a sustainable service for the long term, a service where GP obstetricians can build their careers and relationships with patients and the community,” Dr Helper said.

“We continue the hunt for an additional GPO keen to join the team.”

The direct employment of GP obstetricians by EGHS will also facilitate the provision of expanded services, including the addition of a GP obstetric antenatal clinic commencing this month. Care through this clinic will be provided in conjunction with the midwifery antenatal clinics already running at EGHS.

“This service will enhance the collaboration between the midwives and the GP Obstetricians, who will be working together to meet the needs of pregnant women, providing safe and quality care,” Mr Bush said.

Patients should have their initial pregnancy care and obtain a referral from their GP before ringing to book an appointment with the midwife and GP obstetrician at EGHS. Shared care with other GPs will also be supported.

There will continue to be a strong connection between East Grampians Health Service and the Ararat Medical Centre, underpinned by both organisations’ fundamental belief in the importance of the continuity of care offered by GP obstetrics. Dr Connellan, Dr Pretorius, and Dr Wong will continue to be available for shared care through Ararat Medical Centre.

Antenatal clinic bookings at EGHS can be made after obtaining a GP referral by calling and speaking to a ward clerk on 5352 9321