Saturday 10 December 2016

Experts call for immediate action to lower stillbirth rate in UK

Published 19/11/2015 | 12:27

File photo: Judith Abela, acting chief executive of the charity Sands, said:
File photo: Judith Abela, acting chief executive of the charity Sands, said: "One in three babies who are stillborn die at term, a time when they are likely to have survived outside the womb had they been safely delivered earlier. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Experts have called for immediate action to lower the UK's stillbirth rate - one of the highest in the developed world.

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Judith Abela, acting chief executive of the charity Sands, said: "One in three babies who are stillborn die at term, a time when they are likely to have survived outside the womb had they been safely delivered earlier. This equates to over 1,000 babies in 2013.

"Jeremy Hunt pledged last Friday to halve the stillbirth rate by 2030. But this report tells us hundreds of deaths could be avoided today simply by applying existing antenatal guidelines.

"It's particularly worrying that so many women's concerns about changes in their baby's movements are not being taken seriously and that a baby's poor growth is not being spotted by simple checks."

Health Minister Ben Gummer said: "This is further evidence of the urgent need for change - we need to do everything we can to reduce the number of families going through the heartache of stillbirth and ensure the NHS is one of the very best and safest places to have a baby across the world.

"Last week we launched our ambition to halve stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and neonatal brain injuries, through cutting-edge technology and multi-disciplinary training. The MBRRACE-UK recommendations will help the NHS to further improve and shape future, safer care."

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: "The RCM welcomes this important report. It is imperative that it does not sit on the shelf but instead is translated into practice and service change.

"We owe it to women and their families to do everything we can to prevent avoidable antenatal stillbirths."

Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: "Although fewer babies in the UK are stillborn today, it's desperately disappointing that the four recommendations from this report remain exactly the same as when the last confidential enquiry into these stillbirths took place over 15 years ago.

"Today's report suggests six in 10 of these stillbirths are potentially avoidable. We can and should do better by the 1,000 families affected each year in the UK."

Elizabeth Draper, professor of perinatal and paediatric epidemiology at the University of Leicester, said: "The panel has identified a number of areas where improvements of care are required which, if implemented, could lead to an overall reduction in this type of stillbirth, representing missed opportunities in the provision of antenatal care.

"However not all findings were negative. We found examples of excellent bereavement care where midwives had provided long term support for families in a way that surpassed normal expectations, high quality interpreter services when these were needed as well as a high standard of post-mortems."

Elizabeth Hutton, chief executive of the Count the Kicks charity, said: "Many women who contact us think their babies could have been saved if basic guidelines had been followed and they often feel that they are not always taken seriously when they contact a healthcare professional with worries about reduced movement.

"Consistency seems to be a real issue in the UK as hospitals in different parts of the country have different procedures. It is worrying that despite women reporting these concerns, babies are still dying as the care subsequently given is not adequate and this is something that needs to be addressed."

Professor Neena Modi, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: "Giving birth to a stillborn baby is heartbreaking."

She urged "greater support for mothers to reduce risky behaviours during pregnancy such as smoking, and help for young women who are contemplating pregnancy to maintain a normal weight.

"Smoking during pregnancy is a major concern as it causes higher rates of stillbirth, premature birth, low birth weight and sudden infant death in babies. Smoking among pregnant women in poor and disadvantaged groups and teenage mothers-to-be remains considerably more prevalent than in the general population."

Carmel Bagness, professional lead for midwifery and women's health at the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), said: "Every stillbirth is a personal tragedy and this important report contains valuable evidence which can help hospitals to implement the standards of care which all mothers and partners should expect.

"This report raises a number of important issues and opportunities to reduce the number of stillbirths."

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