Open Access Research article

“A patchwork of services” – caring for women who sustain severe perineal trauma in New South Wales – from the perspective of women and midwives

Holly S Priddis1*, Virginia Schmied1, Christine Kettle2, Anne Sneddon3 and Hannah G Dahlen1

Author Affiliations

1 School of Nursing and Midwifery, University of Western Sydney, Building EB, Parramatta Campus, Locked Bag 1797, Penrith South DC NSW 2751, Australia

2 Staffordshire University, Blackheath Lane, Stafford, Staffordshire ST18 0AD, UK

3 Obstetrics and Gynaecology Gold Coast, Griffith University, Gold Coast, Australia

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BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 2014, 14:236  doi:10.1186/1471-2393-14-236

Published: 18 July 2014



Current research into severe perineal trauma (3rd and 4th degree) focuses upon identification of risk factors, preventative practices and methods of repair, with little focus on women’s experiences of, and interactions with, health professionals following severe perineal trauma (SPT). The aim of this study is to describe current health services provided to women in New South Wales (NSW) who have experienced SPT from the perspective of Clinical Midwifery Consultants (CMC) and women.


This study used a descriptive qualitative design and reports on the findings of a component of a larger mixed methods study. Data were collected through a semi-structured discussion group using a variety of non-directive, open-ended questions leading CMCs of NSW. A survey was distributed prior to the discussion group to collect further information and enable a more comprehensive understanding of services provided. Data from individual interviews with twelve women who had experienced SPT during vaginal birth is used to provide greater insight into their interactions with, and ease of access to, health service providers in NSW. An integrative approach was undertaken in reporting the findings which involved comparing and analysing findings from the three sets of data.


One overarching theme was identified: A Patchwork of Policy and Process which identified that current health services operate in a ‘patchwork’ manner when caring for women who sustain SPT. They are characterised by lack of consistency in practice and standardisation of care. Within the overarching theme, four subthemes were identified: Falling through the gaps; Qualifications, skills and attitudes of health professionals; Caring for women who have sustained SPT; and Gold standard care: how would it look?


The findings from this study suggest that current health services in NSW represent a ‘patchwork’ of service provision for women who have sustained SPT. It appeared that women seek compassionate and supportive care based upon a clear exchange of information, and this should be considered when reflecting upon health service design. This study highlights the benefits of establishing multi-disciplinary collaborative specialist clinics to support women who experience SPT and associated morbidities, with the aim of providing comprehensive physiological and psychological support.

Qualitative research; Severe perineal trauma; Health services; Birth