Birthing in the Barkly: births to Barkly women in 2010

Rosalie Schultz, Rachael Lockey, Jeremy Oats

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    A 2007 review of maternity services in Australia's Northern Territory (NT) noted the dissatisfaction of women in the Barkly region where the birthing service closed in 2006. The review recommended improved integration of maternity services, a consumer focus, and a pilot study of birthing in Tennant Creek Hospital (TCH) in the Barkly region. Barkly region is sparsely populated, with 5700 people in 320,000 km 2 . The town of Tennant Creek with 3100 population is the only centre of more than 1000 people. In the Barkly region, 64% of the population and 74% of birthing women are Aboriginal. Current NT Department of Health (NT DoH) policy requires all women to give birth in a town with facilities for operative delivery. For most Barkly women this means travelling 500 km to Alice Springs with limited support for travel and accommodation. Emergency air evacuation is arranged for all women who enter labour or give birth while in the Barkly region, whether at TCH or elsewhere. This project was a collaboration between Anyinginyi Health Aboriginal Corporation and NT DoH to examine clinical data to inform a discussion of re-introducing birthing to TCH. Women who were resident in the Barkly region and gave birth in NT in 2010 were identified from the NT Midwives Data Collection. Women who gave birth in Central Australia were managed at Alice Springs Hospital (ASH), either for the birth or afterwards. Antenatal, birthing, postnatal and neonatal data were extracted from ASH records. In total 99 women were identified as residents in the Barkly region from all those who gave birth in 2010. Of these, 83 gave birth in Central Australia, and their records were reviewed for this study, showing that 69 (83%) were Aboriginal; 42 were resident in Tennant Creek; and 29% were aged under 20 years with one under 16 years. Regarding delivery, 53 (64%) women had an unassisted vaginal birth; of 18 women who had had a previous caesarean section, 5 (28%) had a vaginal birth; of the 25 women who had had a normal vaginal birth previously and had no indications for obstetric consultation at the time of labour, three underwent emergency caesarean section. There were 86 infants, all liveborn; 16% were preterm; 21% were of low birth weight; and 6% weighed more than 4.5 kg. Six women gave birth in the Barkly region, two at TCH and four in health centres in remote townships. These mothers and babies were evacuated immediately following birth to ASH, irrespective of indications for referral. Eleven women were evacuated to ASH in labour and six of these were preterm. Opportunities exist to improve maternity care through improved collaboration, even when women cannot give birth in or near their home community due to the absence of birthing services. The remote location of the Barkly region presents challenges to providing maternity care that addresses medical, cultural, psychological and social needs of the childbearing population. Because of this, every opportunity should be taken to optimise maternity care by improvements in continuity of care and carer, improved communication between service providers, and the use of evidence-based guidelines.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)2396
    Number of pages1
    JournalRural and Remote Health
    Issue number3
    Publication statusPublished - 2013


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