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Western Australia Welcomes Homebirth Review

Ruzanna Harutyunyan's picture

The Department of Health has released an independent report which has made recommendations to further boost the safety of homebirths in Western Australia.

Chief Medical Officer Dr Simon Towler said the Department had initiated the independent professional review in December 2007 to identify any concerns with the practice of homebirths in WA.

“WA is one of the safest places in the world to give birth and it is important to maintain that safety record,” he said.

“This review will help us to develop even better systems of care for women who choose homebirth and help provide a full range of birthing options.”

Homebirths in WA are undertaken by independent midwives and by midwives working within the Community Midwifery Program (CMP) – a combined program between WA Health and Community Midwifery WA (CMWA).

The report investigated the health outcomes for mothers and babies choosing homebirths in WA between 2000 and 2007 and made 24 recommendations aimed at improving the safety of homebirths and related services across the State.

The report made recommendations in three major areas. It found that:

* an organised homebirth program with strong clinical protocols, continued education and governance, such as the CMP, could provide a safe and effective service and expansion of the CMP is recommended

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* steps should be taken to address the higher risks which are inherent in homebirths conducted outside mainstream maternity services

* mainstream maternity services need to recognise and adapt to the different birthing choices WA women would like to access

The Department of Health will now work with the relevant clinicians and organisations to assess the feasibility of the recommendations and develop an implementation plan.

The reviewers, Professor Caroline Homer and Dr Michael Nicholl, are currently in Perth to meet with clinicians and Departmental staff to discuss the review’s findings.

Dr Towler said that while the review highlighted the need for homebirth programs and policies to be strengthened - it was pleasing that the recommendations generally endorsed the planned direction of obstetric care in this State.

The policy ‘Improving Maternity Services: Working Together Across Western Australia’ was released last year.

It outlined a plan to give WA’s expectant mothers more choice into how and where they give birth, including greater access to midwife-led care at home and at birthing centres and community clinics.

Dr Towler said perinatal and infant mortality rates in WA had continued to decline.

There were 18 perinatal deaths in planned homebirths in WA in the review period 2000-2007, and no perinatal deaths had been reported in planned homebirths for 2006 and 2007. There were, on average, less than 200 planned homebirths per year during this period. Homebirths still comprise less than one percent of all births in WA.