Did access to antenatal care change during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Given the importance of antenatal care for the health and wellbeing of both the mother and child, and its role in the identification of high risk pregnancies, there is a possibility that changes in use of antenatal care could have adverse effects on outcomes for mothers and babies.

This report seeks to explore the potential impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia on use of antenatal care, using the most recently available MBS data. The report provides preliminary analysis of changing service usage from January 2020 through to September 2020 with comparisons to 2018 and 2019. It focusses specifically on antenatal services claimed on the MBS, defined as:

  • Professional antenatal attendance by a medical practitioner; 
  • Planning and management of a pregnancy, by a medical practitioner, where the pregnancy has progressed beyond 28 weeks' gestation and the service includes a mental health assessment (payable once per pregnancy); or
  • ​Antenatal service provided by a nurse, midwife or an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health practitioner on behalf of, and under the supervision of, a medical practitioner; or
  • Professional antenatal attendance performed by a participating midwife.

These services will be referred to collectively as antenatal care throughout the report. This report also looks at diagnostic imaging (ultrasound) services that relate to the management of pregnancy.

The impact of any changes in antenatal care service use on outcomes for mothers and babies is not available from MBS data. This will be explored in the future through analysis of data from the National Perinatal Data Collection in the Australia’s Mothers and Babies publications. 

Limitations

This report includes data on antenatal care services eligible for Medicare Benefits rebates only. As such, this report does not include antenatal services provided within public hospitals to public patients or services that qualify for benefits under the Department of Veterans’ Affairs National Treatment account. We acknowledge that antenatal care provided through public hospital services, not covered in this report, contributes significantly to antenatal care provided in Australia. This means data in this report is considered preliminary. However, these limitations also apply to 2018 and 2019 data and therefore these years are provided as baselines to identify changes in use of antenatal care services eligible for Medicare Benefits rebates. Please see Technical Notes for a list of MBS items included in this analysis.

This data presents the number of claims for antenatal care processed by Services Australia. Data does not reflect the number of individuals who received the service, nor number of sessions of care an individual received.

Month/quarter relates to the date the claim was processed by Services Australia, not the date care was provided. Further analysis, when other data is available, will be required to ensure that differences are true changes in service usage. More definitions and details on limitations are included in the Technical Notes.