BACKGROUND: In a post-2015 development agenda, achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC) for women and newborns will require a fit-for-purpose and fit-to-practice sexual, reproductive, maternal, adolescent and newborn health (SRMNAH) workforce. The aim of this paper is to explore barriers, challenges and solutions to the availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality (AAAQ) of SRMNAH services and workforce. METHODS: The State of the World’s Midwifery report 2014 used a broad definition of midwifery (“the health services and health workforce needed to support and care for women and newborns”) and provided information about a wide range of SRMNAH workers, including doctors, midwives, nurses and auxiliaries. As part of the data collection, 36 out of the 73 participating low- and middle-income countries conducted a one-day workshop, involving a range of different stakeholders. Participants were asked to discuss barriers to the AAAQ of SRMNAH workers, and to suggest strategies for overcoming the identified barriers. The workshop was facilitated using a discussion guide, and a rapporteur took detailed notes. A content analysis was undertaken using N-Vivo software and the AAAQ model as a framework. RESULTS: Across the 36 countries, about 800 participants attended a workshop. The identified barriers to AAAQ of SRMNAH workers included: insufficient size of the workforce and inequity in its distribution, lack of transportation, user fees and out of pocket payments. In some countries, respondents felt that women mistrusted the workforce, and particularly midwives, due to cultural differences, or disrespectful behaviour towards service users. Quality of care was undermined by a lack of supplies/equipment and inadequate regulation. Against these, countries identified a set of solutions including adequate workforce planning supported by a fast and equitable deployment system, aligned with the principles of UHC. Acceptability and quality could be improved with the provision of respectful care as well as strategies to improve education and regulation. CONCLUSIONS: The number and scale of the barriers still needing to be addressed in these 36 countries was significant. Adequate planning and policies to support the development of the SRMNAH workforce and its equitable distribution are a priority. Enabling strategies need to be put in place to improve the status and recognition of midwives, whose role is often undervalued.