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UK Progress on Tackling Stillbirth Rate Too Slow

The UK is lagging behind other countries in global efforts to tackle the rate of annual stillbirths, according to new research.

The Lancet’s ‘Ending Preventable Stillbirths Series,’ which was developed by 216 experts from more than 100 organisations in 43 countries, has ranked Britain a dismal 21st out of 35 of the world’s wealthiest developed nations for stillbirth rates.

Stillbirth is defined by the World Health Organisation as death during the final trimester of pregnancy, or after 28 weeks gestation – by which time, most babies would survive outside the womb.

According to the new study, the UK’s failure to adequately care for expectant mothers is contributing to the needless deaths of more than 700 babies every year. The research follows the group’s 2011 report which found that an increase in awareness could prevent as many as 4,000 stillborn babies a year in Britain.

Last year, 2.6 million babies were stillborn around the world, amounting to around 7,200 every day. According to the latest research, around half of these deaths could be prevented with better care.

Although many countries, including Croatia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, have made significant progress in reducing stillbirth rates, a league table showing improvement rates for combatting stillbirths in 164 countries over the last 15 years, places the UK at 114.

At present, Britain has one of the worst stillbirth rates in the developed world, with a 1.4 per cent annual rate of reduction compared with 6.8 per cent in the Netherlands. For every 1,000 babies born in in the UK, 2.9 are stillborn, bringing heartbreak to more than 2,200 families every year.

Damningly, the main recommendations in the report are the same as those made 15 years ago, namely, that national guidance for monitoring unborn babies is not being followed in a staggering two-thirds of cases.

Many stillbirths are caused by problems with the placenta. If such problems are identified early via greater use of scans, doctors can often intervene to save a child’s life. But in half of reported cases, opportunities to potentially save lives are being missed and women’s concerns about their babies are being dismissed.

Most stillbirths are preventable by simply applying the minimum standards of maternity care. Poor staffing on labour wards, poor communication and record-keeping, and errors made in high-risk situations are all contributing to our continued failure to improve survival rates. In addition, too many units are carrying out inadequate internal investigations into babies’ deaths, meaning valuable lessons and opportunities to improve care and save lives are being missed.

These findings make truly depressing reading and show just how far the UK still needs to go at improving antenatal care for expectant mothers. The 2011 Lancet report on stillbirths revealed how the UK was ranked at 33 out of 35 high income countries. This latest report shows how little progress we have made in reducing those numbers. This is unacceptable.

Jennifer Crompton is a clinical negligence solicitor at Slater and Gordon in Liverpool.

The clinical negligence solicitors at Slater and Gordon help families who have had to deal with devastating birth injuries in a sensitive and supportive manner. We understand the complex legal and medical issues involved, and the importance of supporting you through this most difficult time.

If your baby was injured during pregnancy or child birth due to medical negligence call us for a free consultation any time of day on 0800 916 9049 or contact us online.

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