Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Delivery of maternal health care in Indigenous primary care services: baseline data for an ongoing quality improvement initiative

Alice R Rumbold12*, Ross S Bailie2, Damin Si3, Michelle C Dowden4, Catherine M Kennedy5, Rhonda J Cox6, Lynette O'Donoghue2, Helen E Liddle7, Ru K Kwedza8, Sandra C Thompson6, Hugh P Burke5, Alex DH Brown9, Tarun Weeramanthri10 and Christine M Connors11

Author Affiliations

1 Discipline of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, SA, Australia

2 Menzies School of Health Research, Darwin, NT, Australia

3 Centre for Chronic Disease, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

4 Ngalkanbuy Health Service, Elcho Island, NT, Australia

5 Marri Ma Health Aboriginal Corporation, Broken Hill, NSW, Australia

6 Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health, University of Western Australia

7 Menzies School of Health Research, Alice Springs, NT, Australia

8 Queensland Health, Brisbane, QLD, Australia

9 Centre for Indigenous Vascular and Diabetes Research, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Alice Springs, NT, Australia

10 Public Health Division, Department of Health, Government of Western Australia, Perth, WA, Australia

11 Northern Territory Department of Health and Families, Darwin, NT, Australia

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2011, 11:16  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-11-16

Published: 7 March 2011



Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (Indigenous) populations have disproportionately high rates of adverse perinatal outcomes relative to other Australians. Poorer access to good quality maternal health care is a key driver of this disparity. The aim of this study was to describe patterns of delivery of maternity care and service gaps in primary care services in Australian Indigenous communities.


We undertook a cross-sectional baseline audit for a quality improvement intervention. Medical records of 535 women from 34 Indigenous community health centres in five regions (Top End of Northern Territory 13, Central Australia 2, Far West New South Wales 6, Western Australia 9, and North Queensland 4) were audited. The main outcome measures included: adherence to recommended protocols and procedures in the antenatal and postnatal periods including: clinical, laboratory and ultrasound investigations; screening for gestational diabetes and Group B Streptococcus; brief intervention/advice on health-related behaviours and risks; and follow up of identified health problems.


The proportion of women presenting for their first antenatal visit in the first trimester ranged from 34% to 49% between regions; consequently, documentation of care early in pregnancy was poor. Overall, documentation of routine antenatal investigations and brief interventions/advice regarding health behaviours varied, and generally indicated that these services were underutilised. For example, 46% of known smokers received smoking cessation advice/counselling; 52% of all women received antenatal education and 51% had investigation for gestational diabetes. Overall, there was relatively good documentation of follow up of identified problems related to hypertension or diabetes, with over 70% of identified women being referred to a GP/Obstetrician.


Participating services had both strengths and weaknesses in the delivery of maternal health care. Increasing access to evidence-based screening and health information (most notably around smoking cessation) were consistently identified as opportunities for improvement across services.