The maternity ward of the Fagnes Health Centre in Chimay, in the Walloon province of Hainaut, has been forced to suspend its activities between 11 April and 30 June due to excessive absenteeism among its midwifery staff, the hospital announced in a press release on Thursday.
Out of 12 midwives employed by the centre, five are out on maternity leave. Another six full-time midwives are also not currently working. As a result, the activities of the maternity centre need to be suspended until a long-term solution can be found, explained Frédéric Dubois, communication manager for the HUmami Santé Charleroi-Chimay network.
Perinatal consultations at the hospital will still take place, but about 30 people who were expected to give birth at the hospital will now be directed elsewhere.
While the irony is certainly amusing, the problem is symptomatic of a larger shortage of nursing and midwifery professionals, both in Belgium and the rest of Europe. “The Chimay hospital is geographically isolated, which makes recruitment even harder,” Dubois complained.
Belgian hospitals across the country are severely understaffed and rely on temporary workers, as well as those flown in from overseas, to plug labour shortages. In November last year, Belgian bank Belfius concluded that the hospital sector needed an additional 4,690 new employees.
The Fagnes Health Centre has all but exhausted its options to find replacement staff. It first considered bringing in staff from Charleroi hospital, but they too are working to capacity. Interim staff were also considered, but this was unsuccessful.
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A public contract has been launched to designate a recruitment company responsible for finding the sorely needed midwifery staff. This will be a 4-year-long mission. The company will likely rely on overseas employees with certification equivalent to a Belgian midwifery degree. Chimay hospital says that it has already canvassed for staff in places such as Lebanon, but so far with “very few returns.”
“Contacts have been made with the AViQ (Walloon Agency for Quality of Life), the Regional Health Agency (ARS) of Hauts-de-France, and French cross-border hospitals. Procedures with the Centre Hospitalier de Fourmies and, in the event of high-risk pregnancy, the CHU of Charleroi, have already been established to assure the best conditions,” the Chimay hospital assured.