Saturday, June 2, 2012

For those who like to read the advice given to Health Ministers

A Freedom of Information request was recently made by Homebirth Australia to the (federal) Department of Health and Ageing, for documents related to midwives and professional indemnity insurance under the government's reforms.

The documents are now available at this Disclosure log.

What can we learn from these letters and briefing papers?

A convenient 'reason' for delay: "to allow time for data to be collected ..."
With reference to the exemption granted to private midwives from having professional indemnity insurance when we attend homebirth, Health Minister Roxon wrote (May 2011) to her counterparts in State and Territory governments that:
"essentially this was to allow time for data to be collected on the safety of homebirths and to enable a private insurer to develop an appropriate insurance product."

Today I am exploring threads of information, about homebirth and the collection of data on the safety of homebirths, in some of these documents.

I would like to remind readers that homebirth had been the hot potato in the Maternity Services Review (2008), inspiring hundreds of impassioned submissions to the Review from women and midwives who attempted to convince the Health Minister that homebirth was an essential component of maternity services. 
Yet the Report (2009) side-stepped homebirth, giving preference to what it called ‘collaborative’ models, under obstetric control.

Homebirth, according to the Report (2009), was too much a hot potato, and was dropped! 

“In recognising that, at the current time in Australia, homebirthing is a sensitive and controversial issue, the Review Team has formed the view that the relationship between maternity health care professionals is not such as to support homebirth as a mainstream Commonwealth-funded option (at least in the short term). The Review also considers that moving prematurely to a mainstream private model of care incorporating homebirthing risks polarising the professions rather than allowing the expansion of collaborative approaches to improving choice and services for Australian women and their babies.” (Report Pp20-21)
[For more discussion on the Report and subsequent events, you can check through the archives of this and other blogs written by midwives and maternity activists.]

That was 2009.  And, it could be said that homebirth did polarise the professions!

2010 brought a reprieve for private midwives and homebirth, in terms of the 2-year exemption referred to in the opening paragraph of this post.

2010 also brought the National Maternity Services Plan, which was endorsed in November by the Australian Health Ministers' Conference (AHMC), committing all jurisdictions to, amongst other primary maternity care programs, publicly funded homebirth.

2011 saw homebirth on the agenda of the February AHMC meeting, with a briefing that drew attention to South Australian 'some' privately practising midwives (PPM) who were
"not practising safely.  This is in the context of at least one high profile case of a death in SA which is currently progressing through the courts.  As a result SA is seeking to strengthen the current monitoring arrangements for PPMs".
 2011: (June) The College (ACM) produced the first Homebirth Position Statement, which was rushed through the system, hastily adopted by the NMBA, endorsed by AHMC, posted on the NMBA website and became part of the regulation standards for midwives, drawing howls of dismay and rejection from midwives.  (See for example, APMA Blogs in mid-2011)

2011: (August) The Health Ministers meeting at ANMC agreed to a twelve month extension to the exemption from PII for private practice midwives attending home births.

2011: (November) The second (revised) ACM Position Statement on Homebirth Services was released, having undergone more constructive consultation with the profession than the previous one.  However, the first Homebirth Position Statement has been retained by the NMBA. 

Throughout this set of documents a recurring theme is data collection:
"allow time for data to be collected on the safety of homebirths ..."
 "the collection of sufficient data on the clinical safety of homebirths"

Data on actual homebirths and planned homebirths has been collected and reported on in Victoria for at least the past 20 years.  How much more is needed?

Each year a PROFILE: HOMEBIRTH document is published by the Perinatal Data Collection (PDC) unit of the Victorian government's Consultative Council on Obstetric and Perinatal Morbidity and Mortality (CCOPMM).  The statewide collection of perinatal data has, over the years, also developed and published Maternity Service Performance Indicators.  (Click here for the 2009 statewide set)

For example, in 2003-2007, there were 170 standard primiparae who planned homebirth, regardless of where the birth took place.  Of these,

MAT-1     none had labour induced (0%) [Statewide rate 2007 was 4.8%]
MAT-1b  11 had Caesarean births (6.5%) [Statewide rate 2007 was 14.8%]

Apart from individual cases that have been highlighted and possibly sensationalised in media reports, there is no reliable statistical evidence of poorer outcomes for either mothers or babies who give birth at home in the care of midwives.  Data supports the safety of homebirth: it is easy to argue the protective effect of many aspects of planned homebirth, for example, primary care by a known midwife, many aspects of social support, spontaneous onset of labour, and appropriate use of medical analgesics, anaesthetics, and uterine stimulants.

Plenty of time has transpired for data to be collected. 

There is no reason for homebirth attended by private midwives to be excluded from indemnity insurance products, and no reason for women to be discouraged from planning homebirth with an independent midwife.

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