In Australia, maternity care services provide care for pregnant and postpartum women and their newborns. The COVID-19 pandemic forced these services to quickly adapt and develop policies and procedures for dealing with transmission in health care facilities, as well as work under public health measures to counter its spread within the community. Despite well-documented responses and adaptations by healthcare systems, no studies have examined the experiences of maternity service leaders through the pandemic. This study aimed to explore the experiences of maternity service leaders, to understand their perspectives on what happened in health services and what was required of a leader during the COVID-19 pandemic in one Australian state.
A longitudinal qualitative study collected data from 11 maternity care leaders during the pandemic in the state of Victoria. Leaders participated in a series of interviews over the 16-month study period, with a total of 57 interviews conducted. An inductive approach to developing codes allowed for semantic coding of the data, then a thematic analysis was conducted to explore patterned meaning across the dataset.
One overarching theme, 'challenges of being a maternity service leader during the pandemic', encompassed participant's experiences. Four sub-themes described the experiences of these leaders: (1) needing to be a rapid decision-maker, (2) needing to adapt and alter services, (3) needing to filter and translate information, and (4) the need to support people. At the beginning of the pandemic, the challenges were most acute with slow guideline development, rapid communications from the government and an urgent need to keep patients and staff safe. Over time, with knowledge and experience, leaders were able to quickly adjust and respond to policy change.
Maternity service leaders played an important role in preparing and adapting services in accordance with government directives and guidelines while also developing strategies tailored to their own health service requirements. These experiences will be invaluable in designing high quality and responsive systems for maternity care in future crises.