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 25000 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.