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We asked ourselves, "What are the main challenges faced by private midwifery practice in Victoria?"
We agreed that:
- Midwives need to be able to practise midwifery, whether we are self-employed, or not. Current State and Federal processes have continued to marginalise the private practice midwife, unfairly restricting our scope, and preventing us from attending women who give birth in hospital. Women in our care who give birth at home are discriminated against in that they are not eligible for the Medicare rebate for 'management of confinement' [Medicare Item Number 82120 (and 82125)]. These item numbers apply only when women are attended in hospital by a midwife who has been awarded visiting access to practise midwifery privately in that hospital. No Victorian hospital has yet awarded visiting access to a midwife.
- The National Health (Collaborative arrangements for midwives) Determination 2010 (Collaboration Determination) is unworkable, and needs to be deleted from the law. This piece of legislation requires midwives to obtain an arrangement signed by a suitably qualified doctor, for each woman receiving midwifery services, in order for the woman to receive Medicare rebate. This requirement does not protect the public interest: rather, it sets up systems that are often difficult for the pregnant woman who is seeking private midwifery services.
This sort of problem is not unique to Australia. People who are aware in international midwifery issues will know that midwives in the UK, Ireland, and Hungary, are also fighting to retain their right to practise midwifery privately. Women in New Zealand, Canada, and the Netherlands, by contrast, have access to midwives who practise autonomously in their communities, both home and hospital, under public funding that covers the cost of the midwifery services.
Discussion on a woman's rights, under human rights laws and charters, has increased with reference to our European colleagues, such as Agnes Gereb.
In this regard, is it better to argue for the midwife's right to work as a midwife, or for the woman's right to access the services of a midwife? This is the question I put to a lawyer who practises in human rights, and the response was:
Human rights law is focused on the woman. BUT, the rights of the woman encompass the availability of good quality services and choices, and restrictions on midwives such as the inability to get insurance and the inability to work in the system directly affect the rights of the woman so although you have to make an extra step in the argument, you can still make improvements for midwives via the rights of women.
What, then, is so special about the midwife who practises privately? Don't women in Victoria have enough access to midwifery through the public and private hospital system? Why should a small group of midwives who work outside the mainstream system be listened to?
This discussion could go on and on ...!
In essence, the small professional group which MiPP represents is a front-runner in promoting excellence in midwifery practice in this State, and nationally. Although small, we are not a trivial fringe group that could be ignored. We insist that in using our qualification, 'midwife', to the best standards of professional practice, we are promotion health and well being in the mothers and children in our care. We are using contemporary evidence to lead the midwifery profession.
We are not content to work exclusively in the homebirth sector. A midwife is 'with-woman'; not 'with-setting-for-birth'. Homebirth is not an outcome; it's a setting that is decided on as a woman proceeds in spontaneous unmedicated labour.
By insisting on a fair deal for midwives, we are opening the way for better maternity care options, and better outcomes, for mothers and their babies. That's win-win, and surely it's the woman's and baby's right.