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1.  From little things, big things grow: a local approach to system-wide maternity services reform in the absence of definitive evidence 
For nearly two decades calls have been made to expand the role of midwives within maternity services in Australia. Although some progress has been made, it has been slow and, at system-wide level, limited. There are many barriers that prevent the expansion of midwifery-led services in Australia including funding arrangements for midwifery care, a lack of political will and resistance from powerful medical interest groups. The ongoing debate that exists about the evidence for the safety of midwifery-led care, particularly for the intrapartum phase, is likely to be an important reason why policy-makers are reluctant to implement system-wide reforms of maternity services.
Those opposed to the expansion of midwifery-led care argue that these services are only appropriate for low-risk women. They claim the evidence in support of midwifery-led care has too many holes in it to guarantee that services are safe for higher risk women. Midwifery advocates, however, argue there is no evidence to support the claim that midwifery-led services lead to poorer outcomes in any risk group. Despite this, funding for midwifery-led care outside hospitals remains limited. This article contends that calls for the system-wide expansion of midwifery-led care (such as through funding independently practising midwives) based on the available evidence are unlikely to succeed. There are too many methodological challenges in this area to ever "prove" that midwifery-led services are safe – except for the lowest risk women – and when there is doubt, policy-makers are likely to err on the side of caution.
In order to expand access to midwifery care, advocates should abandon the idea of system-wide reform for now. Instead, they should concentrate on implementing small-scale, locally based changes because it is at this grass roots level that health professionals can work together to resolve the major sticking points – accurately assessing risk, identifying when it changes and responding appropriately. While a lack of political will is a major obstacle to reform it is amenable to change. We argue that system-wide reform is most likely to occur when policy-makers can reference examples of successful locally-based midwifery-led programs across Australia.
PMCID: PMC2067755  PMID: 17903272
2.  Political economy and population health: is Australia exceptional? 
It is accepted knowledge that social and economic conditions – like education and income – affect population health. What remains uncertain is whether the degree of inequality in these conditions influences population health and if so, how. Some researchers who argue that inequalities are important, say there is a relationship between political economy, inequality and population health. Their evidence comes from comparative studies showing that countries with neo-liberal political economies generally have poorer population health outcomes than those with social or Christian democratic political economies. According to these researchers, neo-liberal political economies adopt labour market and welfare state policies that lead to greater levels of inequality and poorer population health outcomes for us all.
Australia has experienced considerable social and economic reforms over the last 20 years, with both major political parties increasingly adopting neo-liberal policies. Despite these reforms, population health outcomes are amongst the best in the world.
Australia appears to contest theories suggesting a link between political economy and population health. To progress our understanding, researchers need to concentrate on policy areas outside health – such as welfare, economics and industrial relations. We need to do longitudinal studies on how reforms in these areas affect levels of social and economic inequality, as well population health. We need to draw on social scientific methods, especially concerning case selection, to advance our understanding of casual relationships in policy studies. It is important to find out if, and why, Australia has resisted the affects of neo-liberalism on population health so we ensure our high standards are maintained in the future.
PMCID: PMC1513585  PMID: 16737549

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