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08 March 2024

GPs welcome Tasmanian Labor and Tasmanian Greens commitment to mother and baby health

The Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) has lauded Tasmanian Labor and Tasmanian Greens for heeding its calls to support families with babies who are facing challenges through access to dedicated mother and baby services.

Tasmanian Labor have committed to spend $5 million a year for four years to establish small, dedicated community day programs and residential stay services for families dealing with perinatal exhaustion, feeding and settling issues and postnatal depression or anxiety. The Tasmanian Greens have also committed to establish a dedicated public Mother and Baby Service as a community day program and residential stay service.

The College called for the establishment of standalone mother and baby units in Hobart and Launceston in its 2024-25 budget submission. These services would provide day and residential stay services for families experiencing perinatal exhaustion, feeding and settling difficulties, and postnatal depression and anxiety.

Prior to its closure last year, the St Helen's Private Hospital Mother Baby Unit provided a residential facility for families with a child aged under 12 months who are struggling and need specialised all-hours support.

RACGP Tasmania chair Dr Toby Gardner welcomed the announcement and called on the Tasmanian Liberals and Jacqui Lambie Network to match their commitment.

“This is a clearly positive policy that will make a real difference in the lives of families who need support,” he said.

“The support from Greens and Labor show they’re listening to what young families need and GPs support and we’re calling on the Tasmanian Liberals and Jacqui Lambie Network to match their election commitment. It’s a clear and unambiguously positive move for any party that wants to show they’re supporting families.

“The closure of the St Helen's Private Hospital Mother Baby Unit was a big loss to the community. This is an opportunity to not just properly reverse that loss, but extend this service to Launceston and the northwest of the state.”

GP and 2023 RACGP General Practice Supervisor of the Year Dr Tim Jones worked in and helped to refine the St Helen’s unit. He said he has seen the relief mother and baby units can provide.

“Tasmania is the only state without public community care for mothers and babies who need this support, and we need to fix that,” he said.

“We see the real difference this kind of care makes in peoples’ lives. Being a new mother can be isolating if you’re facing challenges in feeding or settling, or your own fatigue, depression, or anxiety. Some mothers and their families need extra support, and it’s so important and valuable to have a facility where specialist staff can not just help you create positive patterns that will help your baby to develop healthily, but make sure you are mentally and physically well too.

“While there are acute mental health beds at Royal Hobart Hospital, they cannot match the specific needs or the strong demand for this kind of service. What’s needed is dedicated support and early intervention, which will also reduce the demand for high-cost hospital and psychiatric level services through early intervention.

“Around one in five Tasmanian mothers experience perinatal depression and anxiety. Around a fifth of maternal suicides are due to severe depression. If you want to put it in economic terms, we estimate perinatal depression and anxiety costs Tasmania around $16.7 million per annum in health, economic and wellbeing costs, based on Productivity Commission modelling. That’s several times the annual cost of running a support service. There’s no measure by which this is not a good, compassionate, and future-focused, idea.”

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