Over half of Ōpōtiki residents sign petition against closure of community birth centre

More than half of Ōpōtiki's population have signed a petition against the closure of its only birthing unit.

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A 5000-strong petition was handed to local MP Tāmati Coffey from concerned locals. Source: 1 NEWS

The birthing centre in the Bay of Plenty town has been temporarily closed, with expectant mothers needing to drive to Whakatāne in the meantime.

It's an extra 45-minute drive on top of the two hours some people travel to get to the unit in the first place, and locals say they're worried it could lead to babies being born on the side of the road.

"I was more hurt for any māmā that's come in… The lack of communication made me really angry and not having a plan in place during the three-month stand-down period," petition organiser Awhina Kurei told 1 NEWS today.

"It's been really hard to comprehend that I can't have my baby in the maternity unit.

"Whakatāne is 45 minutes away, but I don't want to risk that when I'm in intense labour."

Just over 5000 people signed the petition, which was handed to MP Tāmati Coffey today - a little more than 50 per cent of the Ōpōtiki population.

Bay of Plenty DHB's acting chief executive, Simon Everitt, says it was a difficult call to close the birthing unit.

He says they didn't have enough midwives to cover on-call shifts at the Ōpōtiki Community Health Centre's birthing unit and that "safety is paramount".

Ōpōtiki locals present a petition to MP Tāmati Coffey against the temporary closure of the community birthing unit. Source: 1 NEWS

Until the roster is full, the unit will stay closed - currently expected to be three months.

Lead maternity carer Lisa Marie Kelly told 1 NEWS they were only given three days' notice.

"It was complete shock. We knew there may have been a downgrade of services but there was absolutely no inkling at all that the unit would be closed down indefinitely for three months."

Mr Coffey says he understands the residents' concern and he plans to meet with the DHB next week.

"I think this is a really serious issue and we need to make sure we're asking the right questions and having the right conversations with the DHB.

"It really concerns me, the thought of any mum having a baby on the side of the road."

Mr Everitt says there's a team working on options but they need the unit to be sustainable and enduring.