Investment in more comprehensive and consistent national data collection for maternal and perinatal morbidity and mortality was recommended by the Report of the maternity services review-a review conducted in 2008 by the then Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing in response to concerns that maternity care was not meeting the needs of all Australian women. Its findings led to the development of the National Maternity Services Plan (NMSP). The NMSP is a strategic national framework to guide policy and program development and reflects the joint understanding and commitment of health ministers in all jurisdictions. The National Maternity Data Development Project (NMDDP) was established in response to Action 4.1.5 of the NMSP: The Australian Governmentfunds the development of nationally consistent maternal and perinatal data collection.

This report presents the findings of Stage 1 of the NMDDP which was conducted between May 2011 and June 2013, under the expert guidance of a project advisory group and with extensive stakeholder consultation. Major components included:

  • identifying national information needs for maternity data and assessing options to meet these needs through enhanced data collection and reporting
  • conducting a range of data development activities, including developing a classification system for models of maternity care
  • reaching agreement on the national requirements for maternal mortality reporting, including developing a standardised data collection form
  • investigating issues with collecting and reporting national perinatal mortality data.
  • One outcome of the project has been an agreed set of priority data items for improving national data collection and reporting. These data items fall into three main categories:
  • improvement of maternal morbidity data items (such as diabetes and hypertension) that are currently inconsistently collected across Australia
  • addition of data items relating to lifestyle and risk factors in the antenatal period, including obesity and maternal mental health
  • addition of data items on indications for caesarean section and other interventions, reflecting a need for consistent and accurate information about interventions before and during labour.

Another outcome is the development of the Maternity Care Classification System (MaCCS) to classify the diverse range of models of maternity care in Australia. Once implemented, this system is designed to support analysis of outcomes of maternity care provided in different ways.

Stage 1 of the NMDDP also involved in-depth examination of the current collection of data on maternal mortality. While maternal deaths are rare in Australia, they are still an important indicator of the quality of maternity services and obstetric care. A national report on maternal mortality in Australia for 2006-2010 will be published in 2014.

A second stage of the NMDDP has now begun and will focus on continuing the development of priority data items and of the MaCCS, extending maternal mortality reporting work, developing methods to better capture and report on national perinatal mortality, and providing greater access to maternal and perinatal data through web tools.