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June 27th 2017

Birth Negligence

NHS Trusts Must Do More to Prevent Stillbirths and Neonatal Death

Helena Wood

Helena Wood

Legal Executive, Clinical Negligence

NHS Trusts Must Do More to Prevent Stillbirths and Neonatal Death

Stillbirths and neonatal deaths have a lasting impact, and nothing can prepare parents for the pain of losing their baby. Tragically, 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth in the UK every day — raising questions about what can be done to prevent and reduce perinatal mortality.

Stillbirths and neonatal deaths have a lasting impact, and nothing can prepare parents for the pain of losing their baby. Tragically, 15 babies die before, during or shortly after birth in the UK every day — raising questions about what can be done to prevent and reduce perinatal mortality.

Just last week, a report emerged suggesting that almost two dozen NHS trusts in Britain have higher than expected rates of stillbirths and neonatal death. Some twenty-one hospital trusts are currently labelled “red”, meaning they have an infant mortality rate 10% higher than the European average for that type of organisation.

In 2015, experts began examining the UK’s perinatal death rate. They introduced a traffic light system to highlight trusts where action is needed to improve birth outcomes. Over 12 per cent of the 165 NHS trusts assessed in the study were labelled “red”, while around a third (32.7%) were given an “amber” rating. Troublingly, just 7% were ranked “green”, meaning their perinatal mortality rate is 10% lower than average.

The authors of the study, MBRRACE-UK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK), have called on individual NHS trusts to investigate the possible causes of the higher rates, and review the quality of care they provide. Working with the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership, plans are in place to develop a standardised perinatal mortality review tool that will allow hospitals to monitor and review stillbirths and neonatal deaths— with a goal to reduce instances of infant mortality in the future.

The 21 NHS trusts with high rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths

NHS hospital with high rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths

Below, we list the 21 NHS trusts deemed “red” by the MBRRACE-UK report.

  • Belfast Health & Social Care Trust
  • Birmingham Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust
  • Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust
  • University Hospitals Bristol Foundation Trust
  • East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Homerton University Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust
  • Royal Berkshire NHS Foundation Trust
  • Sandwell & West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Southern Health & Social Care Trust
  • The Dudley Group NHS Foundation Trust
  • The Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust
  • Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust
  • Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Kettering General Hospital NHS Foundation Trust
  • Royal United Hospitals Bath NHS Foundation Trust
  • Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust
  • Dorset County Hospital NHS Foundation Trust

Despite these worrying statistics, the report does show that the UK’s stillbirth rate fell by 8% between 2013 and 2015 (when the study was carried out), and that the number of cases is generally falling year-on-year. The Government’s long-term ambition is to halve the total number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2030, and these statistics do suggest that things are moving in the right direction.

However, while the UK’s stillbirth and neonatal death rate is falling, it remains higher than other European countries. In 2015, the rate was 3.87 per 1,000 total births — higher than European countries with a similar population and GDP. There is also considerable variation between NHS trusts across the country, highlighting the need for individual hospitals to review the care and treatment they provide, and do more to prevent infant mortalities.

Could Hospital Negligence be Responsible for Hundreds of Baby Deaths and Brain Injuries?

Pregnant woman in grey jumper | Stillbirths and neonatal deaths

In a similar study released last week, the RPOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) concluded that more than 550 babies who died or suffered brain injury shortly after birth may have had different outcomes had hospital care been better and more comprehensive.

In the wake of the report, the RPOG are calling for a raft of actions to be taken to improve care in hospitals with a high infant mortality rate. The organisation has launched an ‘Each Baby Counts’ campaign, calling on the government to take a tougher line on NHS trusts which currently fall below the expected standard in neonatal care.

Raising Awareness of Neonatal Death for Sands Awareness Month

June is Sands Awareness Month, an annual campaign raising awareness of stillbirths and neonatal death. As part of the 2017 campaign, Sands is highlighting the tragic fact that 15 babies die every day in Britain, and has launched a #15babiesaday initiative to get people involved in the event.

Sands was founded in 1978 by a small group of parents left devastated by losing their babies. Ever since, the charity has campaigned tirelessly to raise awareness of the impact of stillbirths and neonatal death. The charity provides help and support to families who have suffered the death of an infant, and also works with the government to advise on how hospitals and healthcare trusts can do more to prevent and reduce neonatal mortality.

For more information on Sands and ideas on how you can get involved in the #15babiesaday campaign, click here.

Hudgell Solicitors is experienced in holding healthcare providers to account for substandard antenatal and neonatal care. To find out more, visit our dedicated birth negligence page or call our team today.

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