EXPECTANT mothers are being forced to drive hundreds of kilometres to deliver their babies after their local obstetrician was suspended when it was revealed he had a criminal conviction.
Dr Johannes "Bernie" Haasbroek claims he was delivering more than 140 babies a year while working at Leeton Hospital, in the Riverina, until being stood down last year.
Since then, local health officials have been unable to find anyone to replace him. As there is only one other obstetrician in town who works part-time, women are being forced to drive an hour to Griffith Hospital to give birth.
Last Sunday, the wife of a doctor delivered her own baby at the side of the road while on her way to Griffith Hospital while another gave birth at Leeton Hospital despite no doctors on the premises.
Dr Haasbroek was suspended after he had been convicted of domestic assault, breaching an Apprehended Violence Order, and stalking and intimidation offences, resulting in a nine-month good behaviour bond. The bond expired in March this year.
The conviction followed a separate, still-ongoing investigation into a stillbirth that occurred under his watch while working as a visiting medical officer at Ceduna Hospital in South Australian hospital in 2015.
The incident led to a series of "undertakings" to national medical watchdog the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency relating to treating pregnant women. The undertakings, a legal agreement "to protect the public", were known to the hospital, which allowed Dr Haasbroek to continue working under supervision.
South African-born Dr Haasbroek, 50, was also caught up in a medical negligence case in 2010, which led to a patient being awarded $290,000.
While suspended, Dr Haasbroek's five-year contract to work at Leeton Hospital expired, and Murrumbidgee Local Health District chose not to renew it.
Instead, the District has been advertising for a replacement obstetrician with no success.
The hospital confirmed it had yet to receive a single application despite an extensive advertising campaign launched last year.
Dr Haasbroek, who wants his old job back, admitted he had "made mistakes", but that he was "no monster".
He said the assault had occurred during "a bad patch" with his wife, with the pair having since reconciled.
Dr Haasbroek, who still works as a GP at a local family clinic, said: "I'd like my job back. I got in trouble because I didn't report the assault conviction.
"I'm not proud — we are still together. I'm not a perfect man, but I'm not a monster. I've always treated my patients with respect, especially women."
Mothers in Leeton have put out a desperate plea for more to be done to secure an obstetrician in the town.
Murrumbidgee Local Health District (MLHD) Chief Executive Jill Ludford said the hospital was continuing its search for a new obstetrician, while noting women with "complicated pregnancies" would continue to be referred to Griffith and Wagga Wagga hospitals.
She said women with uncomplicated pregnancies would be able to deliver their babies at Leeton Hospital as part of a new midwifery system to be introduced from next month.
"The priority for MLHD is to provide a safe, appropriate and sustainable birthing service for the women and families of Leeton," she said.
"A midwife is available on-call 24 hours to provide emergency care and advice to women presenting to Leeton Hospital.
"Obstetricians will continue to be involved in the care of women with complex pregnancies who require specialist obstetric services from larger hospitals."