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Open Access Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 38(3)

Identifying maternity services in public hospitals in rural and remote Australia

Jo Longman A F, Jennifer M. Pilcher A, Deborah A. Donoghue A, Margaret Rolfe A, Sue V. Kildea B, Sue Kruske C, Jeremy J. N. Oats D, Geoffrey G. Morgan A E and Lesley M. Barclay A

A University Centre for Rural Health, University of Sydney, PO Box 3074, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia. Email: jpil2286@uni.sydney.edu.au; deborah.donoghue@ucrh.edu.au; margaret.rolfe@ucrh.edu.au; geoff.morgan@ucrh.edu.au; lesley.barclay@sydney.edu.au
B Women’s Health and Newborn Services (Maternity) Mater Health Services, Australian Catholic University and Mater Medical Research Institute, Level 1, Aubigny Place, Raymond Terrace, South Brisbane, Qld 4101, Australia. Email: sue.kildea@acu.edu.au
C Queensland Centre for Mothers & Babies, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Qld 4072, Australia.
D Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, PO Box 5266, Burnley, Victoria 3121, Australia. Email: jeremy.oats@thewomens.org.au
E North Coast Public Health Unit, PO Box 498, Lismore, NSW 2480, Australia.
F Corresponding author. Email: jo.longman@ucrh.edu.au

Australian Health Review 38(3) 337-344 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH13188
Submitted: 3 October 2013  Accepted: 25 February 2014   Published: 2 June 2014

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Objective This paper articulates the importance of accurately identifying maternity services. It describes the process and challenges of identifying the number, level and networks of rural and remote maternity services in public hospitals serving communities of between 1000 and 25 000 people across Australia, and presents the findings of this process.

Methods Health departments and the national government’s websites, along with lists of public hospitals, were used to identify all rural and remote Australian public hospitals offering maternity services in small towns. State perinatal reports were reviewed to establish numbers of births by hospital. The level of maternity services and networks of hospitals within which services functioned were determined via discussion with senior jurisdictional representatives.

Results In all, 198 rural and remote public hospitals offering maternity services were identified. There were challenges in sourcing information on maternity services to generate an accurate national picture. The nature of information about maternity services held centrally by jurisdictions varied, and different frameworks were used to describe minimum requirements for service levels. Service networks appeared to be based on a combination of individual links, geography and transport infrastructure.

Conclusions The lack of readily available centralised and comparable information on rural and remote maternity services has implications for policy review and development, equity, safety and quality, network development and planning. Accountability for services and capacity to identify problems is also compromised.

What is known about the topic? Australian birthing services have previously been identified for hospitals with 50 or more births a year. Less is known about public hospitals with fewer than 50 births a year or those with only antenatal and postnatal services, particularly in rural and remote locations, or how maternity services information may be identified from publicly available sources.

What does this paper add? This paper describes the process and challenges of identifying maternity services in rural and remote public hospitals serving towns of between 1000 and 25 000, and presents the findings of this process.

What are the implications for practitioners? Nationally accessible, reliable and comparable information is important for health planners, policy makers and health practitioners. This paper provides useful information on the variations in the capability and location of maternity services across Australia. Opportunities exist for consistent collection, collation and reporting of maternity services across rural and remote Australia. This will ensure quality and safety of services, contribute to policy review, support the development and maintenance of service networks, and assist in planning services and expenditure, as well as in the identification of problems. It is therefore key to providing equitable services across the country.


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