Problem/Background: Ethical and professional guidance for midwives and obstetricians emphasises informed consent and respect for patient autonomy; the right to refuse care is well established. However, the existing literature is largely silent on the appropriate clinical responses when pregnant women refuse recommended care, and accounts of disrespectful interactions and conflict are numerous. Policies and processes to support women and maternity care providers are rare and unstudied.
Aim: To document the perspectives of women, midwives and obstetricians following the introduction of a structured process (Maternity Care Plan; MCP) to document refusal of recommended maternity care in a large tertiary maternity unit.
Methods: A qualitative, interpretive study involved thematic analysis of in-depth semi-structured interviews with women (n = 9), midwives (n = 12) and obstetricians (n = 9).
Findings: Four major themes were identified including: ‘Reassuring and supporting clinicians’ ‘Keeping the door open’ ‘Varied awareness, criteria and use of the MCP process’ and ‘No guarantees’.
Conclusion: Clinicians felt protected and reassured by the structured documentation and communication process and valued keeping women engaged in hospital care. This, in turn, protected women's access to maternity care. However, the process could not guarantee favourable responses from other clinicians subsequently involved in the woman's care. Ongoing discussions of risk, perceived by women and some midwives to be pressure to consent to recommended care, were still evident. These limitations may have been attributable to the absence of agreed criteria for initiating the MCP process and fragmented care. Varying awareness and use of the process also diminished women's access to it.