Funding boost won’t save Swedish maternity ward which inspired ‘car birth’ course

A promised 500 million kronor ($57 million) boost to the maternity sector from the government will not be enough to reopen a closed maternity ward in northern Sweden, campaigners said on Wednesday.

Funding boost won't save Swedish maternity ward which inspired 'car birth' course
Some of the campaigners gather outside Swedish parliament. Photo: TT

“It's very sad news and I'm a bit depressed today, we were hoping for some real results,” Stina Näslund, one of the campaigners, told The Local. 

The closure of the maternity ward in Sollefteå, northern Sweden at the end of January was a catalyst for nationwide protests.

Demonstrators have occupied the ward and on Tuesday took their campaign to the Riksdag, arguing that the cost-cutting measure left expectant mothers facing long and potentially dangerous journeys to the nearest hospitals.

The Swedish government announced on Tuesday that an extra 500 million kronor would be allocated to the sector – but this will not be enough to save the ward.

The total sum will be shared out across the country, where recent years have seen reports of pregnant women turned away from overcrowded hospitals. But the amount allocated to Västernorrland County will not cover the approximately 15.2 million kronor cost of reopening the closed ward.

What's more, Sweden's Left Party – which is not part of the current ruling coalition – was unable to push through a proposed permanent increase in maternity funding, meaning county councils will receive lump sums rather than a guaranteed increase in regular funding.

“Some of us hoped the crisis would be over yesterday, but with this money it will be impossible to open the ward again,” Näslund explained.

It will be up to the local council how the money is spent, with local media reporting that the extra funds will pay for locum doctors at the Örnsköldsvik hospital.

“The campaign will continue as usual, 24 hours a day with weekly meetings and activities,” said Näslund. When asked if the government were likely to push through any more measures to help the sector, she said it was doubtful.

The campaigner, who works as a nurse, set up a course together with a midwife from the closed ward aimed at teaching pregnant women how to deal with giving birth in a car – a scenario which has become increasingly likely since the ward's closure leaves mums-to-be facing a 100-200km journey to the nearest hospital.

READ ALSO: Woman gives birth in car after maternity ward closure

However, local authorities have banned midwives from working on the course due to rules over working for competitors.

“I don't really understand that since they don't offer any courses of this kind, and now I don't know where to find midwives to do the course,” said Näslund. “This could put people in danger – I wouldn't be surprised if more women gave birth in their cars.”

The council has started a project to offer coaching to first-time mothers as part of its efforts to improve maternity care in the sparsely populated region, but Näslund is skeptical as to whether this will be of practical use.

“It doesn't get them to the hospital any quicker, it's simply something that sounds good and the council uses it to show they're helping.”