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Calls for urgent action against "unacceptable" UK stillbirth rates
As a major new report is launched by the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, Sands, a medical negligence expert has joined calls for urgent action in combating stillbirths and newborn baby deaths in the UK.
Jacqui Hayat, head of the London Medical Negligence department at Fentons Solicitors LLP, was speaking after she and colleague Rebecca Gilmore attended the launch of a new report entitled: ‘Preventing Baby’s Deaths: What needs to be done?’ The Sands parliamentary reception was held in the House of Commons and attended by over 70 MPs and 150 other guests including key researchers, bereaved parents and representatives of the Department of Health, maternity units and other organisations working in the maternity field.
“We are keen to highlight the work of such a worthwhile charity as Sands, who do an incredible job supporting anyone affected by the loss of their baby and promoting research into stillbirth prevention,” said Jacqui, a partner with the firm. “The sheer scale of baby deaths in this country is shocking. The fact that 17 babies are dying every single day, 11 of whom are stillborn while another six are dying shortly after birth, is just unacceptable.
“Stillbirth is the largest single contributor to child deaths under the age of five in the UK and our stillbirth rates remain the same today as they were in the late 1990s,” said Jacqui. “Unbelievably, the UK is positioned 33rd out of 35 similar high income countries, placing us among the poorest performing countries when it comes to tackling stillbirth and neonatal death. This simply isn’t good enough.”
Highlighting some of the key facts and issues surrounding stillbirth and neonatal death, the report describes the profound and devastating impact these deaths have on parents and their families and focuses on areas where the charity believes progress can be made towards saving hundreds of babies’ lives each year, such as improved antenatal care and research into the causes of stillbirth.
“Out of the 6,500 babies who are stillborn or die shortly after birth every year in the UK, as many as 1,200 deaths are entirely avoidable,” said Jacqui. “A third of the 4,000 babies who are stillborn each year are born late in pregnancy at gestations when they could safely be delivered. It is clear that routine antenatal care is simply failing to detect potential problems and identify babies who need help. Shockingly, the screening methods in use today in antenatal care are largely the same as those used 40 years ago.
“More than 90% of stillborn babies have no congenital abnormality and around a third of stillbirths are completely unexplained,” added Jacqui. “It is thus absolutely essential that new reliable screening methods are adopted and funding is made available for urgent research into the causes and prevention of these unexplained deaths.”
Other measures recommended by Sands involve raising awareness of the risks of stillbirth in public health messages directed towards pregnant women, as well as greater reference to the issue in undergraduate or on-the-job training for doctors and midwives.
In addition, the charity has called for the UK’s currently suspended national review programme for maternal and newborn health - essential to advance understanding of why babies die and improve standards of care - to be resumed; the development of a standardised process of review following the death of a baby to include the bereaved parent’s perspective on their care; and for funding to be made available so that all factors leading up to a baby’s death, including any failures in care, can be analysed in detail.
“Although the UK’s persistently high stillbirth rates are obviously of huge concern,“ said Jacqui, “it is widely believed that with improved care and appropriate commitment and investment in research, a reduction in these numbers is achievable and should be a key focus for all those concerned with maternity services.
“1,200 avoidable baby deaths each year means another 1,200 families left utterly devastated and wondering what went wrong,” added Jacqui. “We need real national commitment to tackling this often ignored tragedy and it is absolutely vital that everything possible is done to raise awareness. With more research, better care, and greater awareness it is hoped that we can prevent all avoidable baby deaths in the future so that lives can be saved and families spared the unimaginable heartbreak of losing their baby.”
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