Women in rural, regional and remote Australia experience unique challenges when accessing maternal health and gynaecological services, compared to their counterparts in metropolitan areas. This results in inequitable access of services due to geographical isolation. This inequity extends to the availability of the obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) workforce, with notable O&G workforce shortages in these communities.
The aim of RANZCOG’s mapping project, funded by the Australian Government, is to map the geographical distribution of maternal health and gynaecological services, as well as the workforce, levels of service, population demographics and key O&G Medicare Benefits Schedule service utilisation data across rural, regional and remote Australia.
This will help identify service and workforce gaps, and barriers to effective service delivery for rural and remote women. Recommendations will then be made to the Australian Government to support future service and workforce planning and facilitate steps towards achieving equitable access for all women, irrespective of where they live.
A pilot of the project, conducted in Western Australia (WA) earlier this year, identified limited access to midwifery group practices, nursery services, urogynaecology services and laparoscopies, and vaginal birth after caesarean services across the WA Country Health Service, the largest country health service in Australia.
Further, to explore the perspectives of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women on the facilitators and barriers when accessing services in rural and remote WA, RANZCOG partnered with Murdoch University’s Ngangk Yira Institute of Change to conduct yarning circles with women in the Goldfields and Wheatbelt regions.
Initial findings from both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal women have highlighted a desire for choice and anonymity when accessing services, limited availability of appropriate care, and cost and travel implications when travelling to access specialist services. Key initial findings from Aboriginal women centred around a lack of cultural understanding from health professionals and prejudice against Aboriginal women.
The College is committed to ensuring that women living and working in rural and remote Australia, like their counterparts in metropolitan centres, receive high-quality obstetric and gynaecological health care throughout any pregnancy and their lives.
Equitable access to women’s health care must be a priority for governments, and we look forward to ensuring this advocacy is amplified as the mapping project is rolled out across Australia.
If you have any questions about the research project, email [email protected]