The content and completeness of women-held maternity documents before admission for labour: a mixed methods study in Banjul, The Gambia

Lotta Gustafsson , Fides Lu , Faith Rickard, Christine MacArthur, Carole Cummins, Ivan Coker, Kebba Mane, Kebba Manneh, Amie Wilson, Semira Manaseki-Holland

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Background: Women-held maternity documents are well established for enabling continuity of maternity care worldwide, with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommending their use in effective decision-making. We aimed to assess the presence, content and completeness of women-held maternity documents at admission to hospitals in The Gambia, and investigate barriers and facilitators to their completion.

Methods: We interviewed 250 women on maternity wards of all 3 Banjul hospitals and conducted content analysis of documentation brought by women on admission for their completeness against WHO referrals criteria. Logistic regression models were used to estimate the odds of the minimum criteria being met. Two focus groups and 21 semi-structured interviews (8 doctors, 8 midwives and 5 nurses) were conducted with healthcare practitioners to explore barriers and facilitators to documented clinical information availability on admission.

Findings: Of the women admitted, all but 10/250 (4%) brought either a maternity card or a structured referral sheet. Of all forms of documentation, women most frequently brought the government-issued maternity card (235/250, 94%); 16% of cards had all 9 minimum criteria completed. Of the 79 referred women, 60% carried standardised referral forms. Only 30% of 97 high-risk women had risk-status recorded. Women were less likely to have documents complete if they were illiterate, had not attended three maternity appointments, or lived more than one hour from hospital. During qualitative interviews, three themes were identified: women as agents for transporting information and documents (e.g. remembering to bring maternity cards); role of individual healthcare professionals’ actions (e.g. legibility of handwriting); system and organisational culture (e.g. standardised referral guidelines).

Conclusion: Women rarely forgot their maternity card, but documents brought at admission were frequently incomplete. This is a missed opportunity to enhance handover and quality of care, especially for high-risk women. National guidelines were recognised by providers as needed for good document keeping and would enhance the women-held maternity documents’ contribution to improving both safety and continuity of care.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0230063
Number of pages20
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 6 Mar 2020


  • Maternity
  • The Gambia
  • handover
  • maternity card
  • mixed-method
  • referral
  • women-held notes


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