Maternal and child health nurse visits slashed in Melbourne’s booming outer-west

When Sarah Wendelborn took her five-day-old baby Matilda home from the hospital after giving birth, she was struggling to breastfeed, and concerned her baby had jaundice.

However, she said it was three weeks before a maternal and child health nurse from her local council in outer-west Melbourne could schedule a visit.

“It was a nightmare. I was crying and sleep-deprived,” she said.

“I would stand on the scales and weigh myself and then weigh myself with her thinking, ‘Is she gaining weight?’ because she had jaundice, and they were saying, ‘She needs to gain weight to pass the jaundice’.

“It was so scary.”

With no face-to-face support available, Sarah taught herself to breastfeed online.

“I was going to pay for a lactation consultant, but they’re over $ 200 a session and my husband had lost his job, so we couldn’t do that at that time,” she said.

Sarah and Matilda are thriving now: Matilda is learning to roll over and Sarah says she has lots of family support around.

But a council decision to slash maternal and child health check-ups means she does not know when her next visit will be.

Services cut in outer-west Melbourne

Sarah lives in the local government area of ​​Wyndham, in Melbourne’s booming outer-south-west, where up to 117 babies are born every week.

Most Victorian parents get free regular check-ups with a council nurse for the first three-and-a-half years of their child’s life.

During the state’s recent brown code, only newborns were guaranteed a visit.

Most councils have since gone back to normal service.

However, in the growth areas of Wyndham and Melton, in Melbourne’s outer-west, local councils cannot say when babies older than eight weeks will get a visit.

In his western suburbs clinic, pediatric Dr Raj Khillan is already seeing health issues that were missed because of the pandemic, and he worries this move will make it worse.

“The issues missed are the developmental delay, the autism spectrum disorder, the child is 18 months not walking and the mother thinks, ‘OK, that’s still fine,'” he said.

A man wearing formal clothing smiles at the camera.
Pediatrician Raj Khillian says he is noticing health issues in babies that were missed because of the pandemic.(ABC News: Margaret Paul)

He said that cuts to maternal and child health nurse visits in the west were very concerning, because those visits often led to early intervention.

Dr Khillan said his waiting time for new patients had already grown from about one month to four months during the pandemic.

Why cut services?

Wyndham City Council said the issue was funding.

In 2016, the Victorian government agreed to fund 50 per cent of the cost of maternal child health nurses, and councils would fund the other half.

But Wyndham council data, seen by the ABC, shows the Department of Health provided 40.2 per cent of funding in 2016-17, and the council paid 59.8 per cent.

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