Calls for a shift on maternal and newborn safety

A beautiful young African American mother in a hospital gown gently holds her infant in her arms and smiles down at her. The baby's eyes are closed.

The Consumer Health Forum of Australia (CHF) has used World Patient Safety Day to call for changes to birth delivery policy, particularly around reduction in caesarean sections performed before 39 weeks because of the risk of adverse outcomes for children.

Drawing on this year’s World Patient Safety Day theme of Safe maternal and newborn care, the CHF has used findings from  this year’s Fourth Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation which revealed  around 50% of planned caesarean sections did not have a documented medical or obstetric reason and has used this as grounds to call for more transparency about the rate of caesarean sections in Australia.

Furthermore, the Atlas also reported that 5.5% of children with special education needs experienced births that occurred at 37 to 39 weeks, in contrast to those with preterm (less than 37 weeks) births accounting for 3.6% of special education needs.

Citing these figures, plus risk of cognitive deficits and a higher risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, the CHF has called for a reduction in caesarean sections performed before 39 weeks.

The CHF’s CEO, Leanne Wells, said that with a high rate of caesarean sections compared to other OECD countries, more transparency was needed to “slow down” the rise of caesarean sections.

“On World Patient Safety Day this year, we join the Atlas in calling for state and territory governments to support shared decision making with consumers and give parents and clinicians information about the risks (and benefits in some cases) of early planned birth,” Ms Wells said.

“We also know that required reporting of hospital caesarean section rates, including investigation of performance against the guidelines has discouraged variations in practice and contributed to slowing down the rise in caesarean sections.

“We call on all states and territories to improve transparency and accountability around reporting in Australian hospitals to improve data collection and monitoring of where progress is being made and where more work is needed.”

The CHF’s full statement can be found here, while a full PDF of the Fourth Australian Atlas of Healthcare Variation can be found here.

This year is the third edition of World Patient Safety Day, which was established by the World Health Organization in 2019, and it has called for “all stakeholders to ‘Act now for safe and respectful childbirth!’”

More information on its aim for this year’s iteration of the day can be found here.

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