Baby study: Private vs public hospitals

Hannah Dahlen

Upon hearing the good news – “Congratulations, you’re pregnant!” – the question of whether to opt for private health care or go through the public system soon ensues. A study conducted by Professor Hannah Dahlen and Dr Charlene Thornton from the University’s School of Nursing and Midwifery (opens in a new window), shows that babies born to low-risk mothers in NSW private hospitals are more likely to have a health problem and be readmitted for birth-related issues in the first month than those born in a public hospital.

After analysing data from more than 690,000 women who gave birth in NSW to a baby between 2000 and 2008, Professor Dahlen and Dr Thornton’s findings have been published in the medical journal BMJ Open. As well as finding that babies born in private hospitals are more likely to be born before 40 weeks, the study also found that despite increased rates of intervention in private hospitals (caesarean section, forceps and epidurals) there was no difference in the death rates between the two groups.

“We have known for some time that obstetric intervention is much higher in private hospitals, but the argument has been that this leads to better outcomes for babies,” says Professor Dahlen. “NSW has one-third of the nation’s births, and this study shows these procedures may be associated with increased problems for healthy women and babies.”

With the cost of health insurance rising, Hannah says the study has shown that paying more for health in Australia doesn’t guarantee a better health outcome for healthy childbearing women.

The findings have opened discussion on the issue and have been published in articles in Sydney Morning Herald (opens in a new window), The Guardian (opens in a new window), and The Conversation (opens in a new window).

More information can also be found in the News Centre article (opens in a new window).