Background: The risk of poor maternal and perinatal outcomes in high-income countries such as Australia is greatest for those experiencing extreme social and economic disadvantage. Australian data show that women of refugee background have higher rates of stillbirth, fetal death in utero and perinatal mortality compared with Australian born women. Policy and health system responses to such inequities have been slow and poorly integrated. This protocol describes an innovative programme of quality improvement and reform in publically funded universal health services in Melbourne, Australia, that aims to address refugee maternal and child health inequalities.
Methods/design: A partnership of 11 organisations spanning health services, government and research is working to achieve change in the way that maternity and early childhood health services support families of refugee background. The aims of the programme are to improve access to universal health care for families of refugee background and build organisational and system capacity to address modifiable risk factors for poor maternal and child health outcomes. Quality improvement initiatives are iterative, co-designed by partners and implemented using the Plan Do Study Act framework in four maternity hospitals and two local government maternal and child health services. Bridging the Gap is designed as a multi-phase, quasi-experimental study. Evaluation methods include use of interrupted time series design to examine health service use and maternal and child health outcomes over a 3-year period of implementation. Process measures will examine refugee families' experiences of specific initiatives and service providers' views and experiences of innovation and change.
Discussion: It is envisaged that the Bridging the Gap program will provide essential evidence to support service and policy innovation and knowledge about what it takes to implement sustainable improvements in the way that health services support vulnerable populations, within the constraints of existing resources.