Compliance with maternity clinical practice guidelines developed by National Women’s Health has been found to be low at audit.

To explore the reasons for poor compliance with maternity guidelines by evaluating the quality of a sample of National Women’s Health guidelines using a validated instrument and assessing local guideline users’ perceptions of and attitudes toward guidelines.

Five independent reviewers evaluated the quality of 10 purposively selected guidelines for adherence to the Appraisal of Guidelines Research & Evaluation (AGREE) II instrument standards. A self‐administered questionnaire for staff was undertaken regarding views of and barriers to guideline use.

None of the guidelines attained a score over 50% for the following domains: stakeholder involvement, rigour of development, applicability, editorial independence. The highest scoring domain was clarity of presentation (mean 69%). All guidelines scored the minimum possible for editorial independence. Survey respondents had positive attitudes toward guidelines, believed that their use could improve quality of care within the service, and felt that encouragement from senior staff members and peers would encourage their use. Accessibility was the most commonly cited of many barriers identified.

The National Women’s Health guidelines evaluated in this study cannot be considered to be high quality, and could be improved by reporting on methodology of the development process. Although poor guideline development may contribute to failure of the local maternity guidelines, it appears that accessibility is a major barrier to their use and implementation.