Closure of Geelong Private Hospital will ‘put lives at risk’ amid baby boom

“It is no exaggeration to say that this will be a tragedy for a generation of women,” she said.

Obstetrician Nisha Khot fears that the closure of Geelong’s only private secular maternity ward will mean that women who want procedures such as abortion, tubal ligation and other methods of contraception after childbirth will face increasing challenges as such treatments are available at St. John are not available at God’s Hospital.

Khot, executive director of the Royal Australian New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, says the biggest concern for women seeking abortion is for pregnancies in which the fetus has life-threatening abnormalities.

dr Nisha Khot worries women in the Geelong area seeking procedures, including abortions, will face challenges as those treatments are unavailable at Catholic health provider St John of God.

dr Nisha Khot worries women in the Geelong area seeking procedures, including abortions, will face challenges as those treatments are unavailable at Catholic health provider St John of God.Credit:Justin McManus

“A private hospital that is a Catholic hospital doesn’t offer termination options for women, meaning these women have no choice but to go to the local public hospital,” Khot said.

“These are really heartbreaking decisions, and not having those choices available when making such a difficult, life-changing decision is just unacceptable.”

A pandemic-driven shift has seen a population boom of more than 13,000 people flocking to the popular cities of Surf Coast and Bellarine Peninsula, while Geelong has grown by more than 5,000 people.

Birth rates in Geelong are well above the national average. The Geelong local government area had the fifth highest birth rate in Victoria and the highest birth rate outside of metropolitan Melbourne last year, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Thompson said Epworth’s maternity ward not only served women from Geelong, but also those seeking private health care in Colac, Birregurra, Winchelsea and Portland.

She said fewer options for private patients meant hundreds more women would choose to give birth at Geelong’s only public hospital each year and could force health services to adopt shorter postnatal stays.

“Instead of them staying the night, sometimes we could wave goodbye to them just hours after birth,” Thompson said.


“You can always shorten stays and rotate more women, but it may compromise the quality of that care for some people, especially if they don’t have support at home.”

Davey is concerned that St. John of God and the public hospital will not be able to accommodate the increasing number of births. The Epworth maternity ward grew at about 20 percent annually and delivered 500 babies in 2022.

Thompson said Australia did not want to end up in a situation like the UK, where chronic and systemic underfunding of maternity health has resulted in hundreds of preventable baby and woman deaths.

“What’s at stake here is the lives of women and their babies,” she said.

“What is at stake here is the lives of women and their babies.”

Kara Thompson, midwife

Expectant mother, Jocelyn Pritchard, was driving in her car to go shopping when she heard about the closure of the maternity ward on the radio.

“At first I just thought it might be impossible because the thought of a hospital suddenly closing is just crazy,” said the 31-year-old woman from Geelong.

“I was just in shock and running around Target in tears trying to process it.”

She gave birth to their daughter Harriet three years earlier in the maternity ward at Epworth.


“We had such a great experience and were really looking forward to reliving it,” she said. “But the hospital staff told us the earliest they can tell us is February 14, which is actually useless if you’re due in March.”

Pritchard, who is due to give birth in March, was desperate to book himself into St. John of God.

Across Victoria, maternity wards are under increasing pressure as staff are asked to work double shifts, often up to 18 hours all night. The shortage of staff also affects neonatal wards.

Victorian Liberal Senator Sarah Henderson has asked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Trade Inspectorate to investigate whether Epworth Healthcare’s alleged conduct has breached consumer law, leading to its decision to consider closing its maternity ward.

Also this week, Australia’s first professor of obstetrics and gynecology, Caroline de Costa, wrote to Epworth HealthCare, imploring it to keep the unit open.

The planned closure comes months after the maternity ward at Portland District Health Hospital in far south-west Victoria closed due to a severe shortage of midwives.

Mark Grime, acting general manager of Epworth HealthCare, said the decision to close the unit was challenging and was driven by ongoing labor shortages.

“This is a difficult and troubling proposition for our affected patients, staff, obstetricians, pediatricians and the wider community,” he said.

St. John of God Geelong and Barwon Health have confirmed that they can safely accommodate all of Epworth Geelong’s patients.

Barwon Health spokeswoman Katie Bibby said Geelong University Hospital is averaging about eight births a day and regularly coping with periods of higher birth counts. She said healthy mothers and their babies usually go home a day or two after birth and there are no plans to shorten postnatal stays or change the care model.

St. John of God chief executive Stephen Roberts said a major redevelopment of the hospital’s maternity ward was underway. He confirmed that a small number of reproductive services are not provided by Catholic hospitals in Australia, including abortions.

Epworth began a consultation process following his announcement and will make a final decision on closing the unit within two weeks.

The Morning Edition Newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here. Closure of Geelong Private Hospital will ‘put lives at risk’ amid baby boom

Callan Tansill

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