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OBJECTIVES: To systematically review (1) The effect of obstetric unit (OU) closures on maternal and neonatal outcomes and (2) The association between travel distance/time to an OU and maternal and neonatal outcomes. DESIGN: Systematic review of any quantitative studies with a comparison group. DATA SOURCES: Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Applied Social Science Index and Abstracts, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health and grey literature were searched. METHODS: Eligible studies explored the impact of closure of an OU or the effect of travel distance/time on prespecified maternal or neonatal outcomes. Only studies of women giving birth in high-income countries with universal health coverage of maternity services comparable to the UK were included. Identification of studies, extraction of data and risk of bias assessment were undertaken by at least two reviewers independently. The risk of bias checklist was based on the Cochrane Effective Practice and Organisation of Care criteria and the Newcastle-Ottawa scale. Heterogeneity across studies precluded meta-analysis and synthesis was narrative, with key findings tabulated. RESULTS: 31 studies met the inclusion criteria. There was some evidence to suggest an increase in babies born before arrival following OU closures and/or associated with longer travel distances or time. This may be associated with an increased risk of perinatal or neonatal mortality, but this finding was not consistent across studies. Evidence on other maternal and neonatal outcomes was limited but did not suggest worse outcomes after closures or with longer travel times/distances. Interpretation of findings for some studies was hampered by concerns around how accurately exposures were measured, and/or a lack of adjustment for confounders or temporal changes. CONCLUSION: It is not possible to conclude from this review whether OU closure, increased travel distances or times are associated with worse outcomes for the mother or the baby. PROSPERO REGISTRATION NUMBER: CRD42017078503.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





epidemiology, obstetrics, public health, Developed Countries, Female, Humans, Income, Infant, Infant Mortality, Infant, Newborn, Pregnancy