The Review was conducted over the latter part of 2008, formally commencing with the release of the Discussion Paper on 10 September 2008.
The Discussion Paper, Improving Maternity Services in Australia: A Discussion Paper from the Australian Government, drew on existing data and available research, both domestic and international. It was prepared by the Department of Health and Ageing and was published on the Department’s website (www.health.gov.au/maternityservicesreview).
The Discussion Paper set the context for the consultation process, outlining current service delivery arrangements for antenatal, delivery and postnatal phases of maternity services in Australia.
The general public and stakeholder groups were invited to respond to questions posed in the Discussion Paper, or on any other matter of relevance to the Review, through a written submission process. The submission period commenced on the day of the Discussion Paper’s release and formally closed seven weeks later, on 31 October 2008. Responses were invited through advertisements placed in metropolitan and national print media and by direct email to known stakeholders.
More than 900 submissions were received from individuals, health professionals, industry groups, researchers, professional organisations and national peak bodies. Submissions ranged in content from personal birth stories and descriptions of the experience of providing maternity care from those who supply it, to examples of existing effective models of care within Australia and internationally, research into many aspects of pregnancy, birthing and postnatal care and strategic policy papers.
The personal stories of individual women made up 407 of the submissions received. A significant proportion (53 per cent) of the women contributing to the Review had personally experienced homebirth. This is a much higher proportion than the proportion in the population overall. In 2006, for example, 708 women (0.26 per cent of all women giving birth in Australia) had a homebirth.
Round Table Forums
A second, parallel process provided key stakeholders with the opportunity to participate in a series of invitation-only round table forums (the forums) investigating six key issues identified in the Discussion Paper:
- Effective Data Collection, Monitoring, Reporting and Research;
- Assessing and Managing High-Risk Pregnancy;
- Workforce Standards, Quality and Interprofessional Collaboration;
- Alternate and Midwife-led Models of Care;
- Indigenous Perspectives; and
- Peer and Social Support in the Perinatal Period.
Consensus on issues was not necessarily an expected outcome of the forums; rather, they provided an opportunity for key stakeholders to engage in a more detailed discussion of the issues and identify barriers to, and enablers of, any maternity service reform. Stakeholders invited to the forums were drawn from a cross-section of consumers and consumer groups, health professionals, professional organisations, researchers, non-government organisations and industry representatives. The forums were held in Canberra over three weeks in October 2008.
Feedback provided to the Review Team indicated that forum participants found the experience beneficial from both a professional and a personal perspective. Some feedback suggested that consumer groups felt underrepresented in some of the forums.
Summary information on the forums is available on the departmental website (see above).