NURSE visits will return to a small town for mums and infants, after Greater Bendigo councillors voted against staff recommendations
Councillors voted unanimously to reinstate face-to-face visits at a suitable site in Elmore, with one describing the service withdrawal as "a process failure".
Twice-monthly nurse visits to Elmore's MCH centre were not resumed after COVID-19 pandemic restrictions eased, sparking a petition calling for their return from concerned residents.
The petition said Elmore's next nearest maternal and child health centre was more than 30 kilometres away.
Council staff pushed for Elmore to remain without nurse visits in their report into the petition, tabled at a council meeting on Monday night.
Staff recommended councillors vote to offer Elmore families consultations at other maternal child health services in Greater Bendigo, or via home visits.
But councillors unanimously voted for an alternative motion put by Whipstick Ward Councillor Julie Sloan.
Under this motion maternal and child health services will be reinstated at a safe and accessible site in Elmore. These will be reviewed within 12 months of recommencement.
Cr Sloan said the withdrawal of nurse visits to the centre made accessing services difficult for some families, who faced a 60 kilometre round trip, and would potentially be uncomfortable with home visits.
She said the reinstatment of an MCH centre in Elmore would strengthen support networks within the community, as well as engaging children and families with the services they needed.
In its report, staff said the city withdrew services in-line with the recommendation of a 2018 review of Greater Bendigo's maternal and child health services, that it transition from small, standalone sites, to co-located hubs.
It also referenced feelings of isolation among nurses working in smaller centres, and low birth rates in Elmore.
But one councillor said the city had refused him access to this document.
Lead petitioner, Elmore GP clinic practice manager Kathy Tuohey said rural communities deserved services as much as other areas.
Ms Tuohey said in March that maternal child health nurse visits were vital for detecting conditions early, development, and referring parents to specialists quickly if needed.
Visits to Marong's maternal and child health centre were also not re-instated after the pandemic.
Councillor Andrea Metcalf said council had withdrawn onsite services from Elmore very quietly after the COVID-19 crisis, without notifying people affected.
Cr Metcalf said this was "a process failure", and the point at which ward councillors became involved.
She said the city could not provide evidence that rural people were involved in the 2018 service review of its maternal and child health services.
Councillor David Fagg likewise said he was refused access to the service review document on the basis of which Elmore's maternal and child health services were withdrawn. Cr Fagg said this left him to make a decision based on inadequate data.
He pointed to the issue as farther reaching than Elmore, saying it affected Marong and Eaglehawk services too.
Councillor Matthew Evans said it was important to note maternal and child health services were subject to an agreement with state and local governments, under which each party paid 50 per cent of the costs.
But Cr Evans said the gap had increased, with more costs being born by the council, putting staff under pressure.
Councillors Margaret O'Rourke and Vaughan Williams also spoke in support of Cr Sloan's motion.
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