How are women with a disability identified in maternity services in Australia? A cross-sectional survey of maternity managers

  • Charlie Benzie
    Corresponding author at: School of Nursing & Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia.
    Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia

    School of Nursing & Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
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  • Michelle Newton
    Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia

    School of Nursing & Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
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  • Della Forster
    Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia

    The Royal Women’s Hospital, Locked Bag 300, Cnr Grattan St and Flemington Rd, Parkville, VIC 3052, Australia
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  • Helen McLachlan
    Judith Lumley Centre, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia

    School of Nursing & Midwifery, La Trobe University, Bundoora, VIC 3086, Australia
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      Women with a disability have poorer perinatal outcomes, but little is known about the prevalence of women with a disability accessing maternity services, how they are identified and what care and services are available. Estimates suggest that nine percent of women of childbearing age have a disability.


      To explore how public maternity services in Australia identify pregnant women with a disability, what (if any) routine disability identification questions are used, and to examine availability and adequacy of services for women.


      Cross-sectional online survey of maternity managers in Australian public hospitals.


      Thirty-six percent (70/193) of eligible hospitals responded including all states and territories. Overall, 71 % routinely asked women about disability status (usually as part of routine history taking), however there was wide variation in how this was asked. Most (63 %) did not have standardised documentation processes and two thirds (65 %) were unable to estimate the number of women with a disability seen at their hospital. Most (68 %) did not offer specialised services, with only 13 % having specialised training for staff in disability identification, documentation and referral pathways. Only a quarter of respondents felt that there were adequate services for women with a disability related to maternity care.


      This is the first study to explore disability identification in maternity services in Australia. How women were asked was highly varied and documentation not standardised. National guidelines on disability identification for women accessing maternity services should be developed and collection of disability identification data should be routine.


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