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General Practitioner Involvement in Remote and Rural Maternity Care: Too Big a Challenge?

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BACKGROUND: In the United Kingdom, general practitioner (GP) involvement in maternity care has declined significantly over the past decade. This is particularly so in remote and rural areas where midwives have stepped up and taken over units to ensure that women in these areas continue to have a service. A recent report by the King's Fund argues for a greater role for the GP in maternity care provision; however, this raises questions about whether GPs have the skills and training to provide such care.

AIM: To explore the views of GPs on the skills and training required to deliver safe and appropriate local intrapartum services in remote and rural settings.

METHODS: Mixed-method study consisting of qualitative interviews with a purposive sample of GPs in six remote and rural sites. To triangulate the interview findings and identify features that might have been missed in the interviews, a questionnaire was developed using initial key themes identified.

FINDINGS: Maternity care accounted for less than 10% of most remote and rural GPs' workload, yet interviewees reported that their role required them to be competent in a wide range of procedures. This was seen as a major barrier to recruitment and retention in rural areas. Although self-reported competence and confidence was high, several GPs felt de-skilled and felt that they were fighting a losing battle to maintain skills. GPs regarded isolation, need for comprehensive expertise, limited resources, and transportation difficulties as factors affecting the decline in their contribution to remote and rural maternity care.

CONCLUSION: Although rural GPs and midwives might traditionally have been in competition, providing a woman-centered service in remote areas may be easier to achieve through collaborative working. However, if GPs are to play a greater role, then they will need to be prepared to make a strategic commitment to the maintenance of remote and rural maternity care. This will require innovative methods of training, special consideration of educational needs, and incentives for practitioners to settle in rural areas, but it may already be too late for GPs to have a substantial input into maternity care.

Keywords: General Practitioners; Maternity Care; Midwifery; Multidisciplinary Education; Remote and Rural Setting

Document Type: Regular Paper


Affiliations: Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to Vanora Hundley, Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professions Research Unit, University of Stirling, Stirling, FK9 4LA, Scotland, United Kingdom. vanora., Email:

Publication date: 2011-03-01

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  • The International Journal of Childbirth is a peer-reviewed, quarterly journal publishing original research, reviews, and case studies concerned with the practice of midwifery, women's health, prenatal care, and the birth process. The journal encourages the exploration of the complex and contextual issues surrounding childbirth provision and outcomes and invites manuscripts from a wide range of clinical, theoretical, political, methodological, psychological, public health, policy, and multicultural and interdisciplinary perspectives.
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