By Olivia Condous
Melton mothers are struggling to get vital health checks for their children, with Melton council’s maternal and child health service still severely restricted in the wake of the pandemic.
Local governments provide free regular health checks with a qualified nurse for infants and children up to six years of age, to ensure that each child’s development is on track.
On January 28, Melton council announced that it was making temporary changes to its maternal and child health nursing service due to the ‘Code Brown’ pandemic in the public health system.
The council sent a letter to parents stating appointments were only available for infants 0-8 weeks and indigenous infants and children.
Three months later, the service only provides appointments for babies up to four months of age.
Melton resident Marie Goizet has been unable to get a follow-up appointment for her 11-month-old son since he was 12 weeks old.
“I don’t know if it’s up to the task it’s supposed to do,” Ms. Goizet said.
“On the website, it says you can fill in your details and show them at the next appointment, but there is no next appointment.
“It definitely worries me, the feeling of being supported doesn’t exist.”
Melton’s mother’s daughter, Rebecca Farrugia McGinley, was born early in the pandemic, and at eight months, nurses suspected her daughter had mild hip dysplasia.
After her daughter turned one year old, the council turned her down for her next follow-up appointment.
A council officer told Ms Farrugia McGinley in September 2021 that the shortage of appointments would only be temporary and that she would be given an appointment for when her daughter turns two. But when Mrs. Farrugia McGinley’s daughter turned two, no appointment was available. She contacted a council officer and a Melton councilman directly with her concerns, but received no response.
“I thought, enough is enough, because this is beyond a joke,” he said.
Neighboring local council areas such as Moorabool and Brimbank have returned their maternal and child health services to regular operations and are offering appointments for children up to six years old.
“I think the problem is that the Melton Council has not adapted to the growth of all the suburbs of the Council, plain and simple,” said Ms. Farrugia McGinley.
“But then they can’t just say, ‘too bad’… It’s not right.”
Victoria Municipal Association chief executive Kerry Thompson said the organization was aware of a small number of councils that were “experiencing problems” in bringing maternal and child health services back to full capacity and were working with the Department of Victoria’s Health and Safer Care in Strategies for Help Tips.
“Like many industries across the country, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our healthcare workforce, including staff furloughs due to positive cases or isolation requirements,” said Ms. Thompson.
“It is critical that maternal and child health personnel take a cautious approach, given that they are working with a cohort of patients who are currently unable to be vaccinated against COVID-19.”
Melton’s council cited the service reduction as caused by an “unprecedented” increase in the local birth rate, the low availability of fully qualified nurses statewide and the impact of the pandemic.
The council’s executive director, Roslyn Wai, said the council highly valued the maternal and child health service and was eager to return it to full capacity as soon as it had the nurses to do so.
“Melton council is driving an ongoing recruitment drive to attract more qualified maternal and child health nurses, however there is a known shortage of qualified nurses,” said Ms Wai.
“We are asking the Victorian government to create incentives for existing nurses to move into maternal and child health and to create a pipeline of new nurses through additional training and education.”