Jeremy Hunt launches drive to halve number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths


A new drive to halve the number of stillbirths and deaths among new babies and mothers has been launched by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

NHS trusts with maternity services will have to show how they are performing, and new data on stillbirth and neonatal death will be published at trust level so results can be compared.

As part of the plan, there is a pledge to cut the number of brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth in a bid to cut compensation costs when things go wrong.

It comes after the most senior midwife in the country warned that failings uncovered in the Morecambe Bay scandal, where 11 babies and one mother lost their lives, could be happening elsewhere in the NHS.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said problems still exist long after an investigation into the scandal found "failings at almost every level, from labour ward to the headquarters of national bodies".

Under the plan to make England one of the safest places in the world to give birth, maternity safety champions could be introduced to report to senior NHS executives.

From a £4 million total pot of money, NHS trusts will be able to buy new digital equipment for monitoring or training, such as cardiotocography (CTG) equipment to monitor a baby's heartbeat, which has been shown to save lives.

The push could save hundreds of millions of pounds in the costs of caring for children injured in childbirth.

The ambition is to reduce the number of stillbirths, neonatal deaths, maternal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after birth by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2030.

Figures show that England still lags behind much of the developed world when it comes to stillbirth.

A 2011 study from the Lancet medical journal on stillbirths ranked the UK 33 out of 35 high-income countries.

According to the charity Tommy's, around one in every 300 babies is stillborn in high-income countries like the UK.

In 2013, the UK still had one of the highest rates of stillbirth in Europe (4.7 per 1,000 total births). France and Bulgaria had the highest stillbirth rates in Europe, whereas Spain and Slovenia had the lowest.

Mr Hunt said: "The NHS is already a safe place to give birth, but the death or injury of even one new baby or mum is a devastating tragedy which we must do all we can to prevent.

"With more support and greater transparency in maternity services across England, we will ensure every mother and baby receives the best and safest care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week - this is at the heart of the NHS values we are backing with funding from a strong economy."

From the pot of money, £500,000 will be invested to develop a new NHS-wide system so staff can review and learn from every stillbirth and neonatal death.

Dr David Richmond, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), said: "Good progress has been made but the fact is many of these incidents could be avoided with improvements to the care women and their babies receive."

Ms Warwick, from the RCM, said: "It is critical that all of us involved in maternity care work to reduce tragic outcomes."

Matthew Jolly, national clinical director for maternity and women's health, said: "Most mums say they get excellent NHS maternity care, but for a small number of families that is not the case and it is vital that we take every step to continuously improve quality and safety.

"That's what today's initiative is rightly all about. We have also commissioned a wider independent review of NHS maternity services, which will assess how best we can respond to England's growing birth rate, and the need for well-staffed and safe services that give mums more say over their care."

Keith Reed, chief executive of the Twins and Multiple Births Association (Tamba), said: "Urgent action is needed, as the latest published figures show the number of multiple birth families devastated by stillbirths rose by 13.6% between 2013 and 2014."