Intended for healthcare professionals


Rates for obstetric intervention among private and public patients in Australia: population based descriptive study

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 15 July 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:137
  1. Christine L Roberts, research directora (christiner{at},
  2. Sally Tracy, senior research midwifeb,
  3. Brian Peat, staff specialist in obstetrics and gynaecologyc
  1. a NSW Centre for Perinatal Health Services Research, School of Population Health and Health Services Research, University of Sydney 2006, Australia,
  2. b Faculty of Nursing, Midwifery and Health, University of Technology, Sydney 2007, Australia,
  3. c King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies, Camperdown 2050, Australia
  1. Correspondence to: C L Roberts
  • Accepted 20 March 2000


Objective: To compare the risk profile of women receiving public and private obstetric care and to compare the rates of obstetric intervention among women at low risk in these groups.

Design: Population based descriptive study.

Setting: New South Wales, Australia.

Subjects: All 171 157 women having a live baby during 1996 and 1997.

Interventions: Epidural, augmentation or induction of labour, episiotomy, and births by forceps, vacuum, or caesarean section.

Main outcome measures: Risk profile of public and private patients, intervention rates, and the accumulation of interventions by both patient and hospital classification (public or private).

Results: Overall, the frequency of women classified as low risk was similar (48%) among those choosing private obstetric care and those receiving standard care in a public hospital. Among low risk women, rates of obstetric intervention were highest in private patients in private hospitals, lowest in public patients, and generally intermediate for private patients in public hospitals. Among primiparas at low risk, 34% of private patients in private hospitals had a forceps or vacuum delivery compared with 17% of public patients. For multiparas the rates were 8% and 3% respectively. Private patients were significantly more likely to have interventions before birth (epidural, induction or augmentation) but this alone did not account for the increased interventions at birth, particularly the high rates of instrumental births.

Conclusions: Public patients have a lower chance of an instrumental delivery. Women should have equal access to quality maternity services, but information on the outcomes associated with the various models of care may influence their choices.


  • Funding New South Wales Centre for Perinatal Health Services Research.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Accepted 20 March 2000
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