Inequality is the biggest barrier to reducing baby loss and improving maternity safety
Babies from minority ethnic or socioeconomically deprived backgrounds continue to be at significantly greater risk of perinatal death than their white or less deprived peers.
Every day in the UK, around 14 babies die before, during or soon after birth. Baby deaths need to fall much faster if the government’s National Maternity Safety Ambition is to meet its important target.
This ambition also includes halving maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 2025; and to reduce the pre-term birth rate from 8 to 6 per cent; also by 2025.
Earlier this month the Health and Social Care Select Committee published its report around maternity safety. The report echoes much of what we have been hearing from hospital trusts, health professionals, bereavement charities, bereaved families and others throughout our work with the baby loss APPG. I would like to pay tribute to everyone who speaks out on this most upsetting of topics. A crucial issue we must all work together on, to achieve success.
The report notes that progress towards reducing the rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths has been “impressive”, with their expert panel rating it as “good”. Although they also note the baseline for this progress was low in comparison to other countries, such as Sweden and that there is still a worrying level of variation in the quality of care.
Mums and babies should not be at an unfair risk just because of their background
Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with some members of our excellent midwifery team at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in my constituency.
The entire bereavement midwifery team at Treliske is outstanding. I continue to be in awe of our local team, how they do such a difficult job, are able to support families at their lowest ebb and continue to take special care of our babies after they have died.
The impact of Covid on these issues seems to be a mixed bag, which is against the expectation. There was a peak still birth and neonatal death in March 2020 and another in January 2021. In Cornwall, our team points to a “slow and steady decline” in the numbers since 2010. There have been 2 stillbirths this year so far. In a so-called usual year there would have been between 8 and 12 by now. It is difficult to commend this figure, however, as the team don’t really know what to attribute it to; apart from natural peaks and troughs. It could be a temporary irregularity and more research will need to be done to find a pattern. Also, this is no comfort at all to the two Cornish families who have suffered this unbearable loss.
The APPG has heard evidence from the sector about how Covid has exasperated existing inequalities. Inequality is the biggest issue that needs to be tackled to reduce the number of babies dying and to improve maternity safety.
The improvements in rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths are good but are not shared equally among all women and babies. Babies from minority ethnic or socioeconomically deprived backgrounds continue to be at significantly greater risk of perinatal death than their white or less deprived peers. Mums and babies should not be at an unfair risk just because of their background.
So, what needs to be done?
Action is needed to address staffing shortfalls in maternity services, more funding is required to embed on-going and sustainable access to training for maternity staff and funding to backfill cover when training takes place would also be desirable. We also need to be involving families in a compassionate manner as a crucial part of the investigation process.
We are just past the halfway point on this important journey to 2025. I would like to thank all healthcare professionals who have contributed to the successes so far. I would like to call on the government to work with them to achieve the rest and save as many lives as possible in the future.
Cherilyn Mackrory is the Conservative MP for Truro and Falmouth.
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