A NEW maternity strategy to reduce the number of stillbirths in England has been announced by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt.
Hundreds of stillbirth, early neonatal death and severe brain injury cases will be referred each year to the new Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which will standardise investigations so that the NHS “learns as quickly as possible from what went wrong and shares that learning to prevent future tragedies”.
The announcement comes alongside the release of findings from the third perinatal confidential enquiry carried out as part of the MBRRACEUK (Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK) programme of work. It determined that in nearly 80 per cent of term, singleton, intrapartum stillbirth and intrapartum-related neonatal deaths, improvements in care were identified which may have made a difference to the outcome of the baby.
Staffing and capacity issues were identified as a problem in over a quarter of the cases reviewed with the majority related to the delivery suite and the remaining to do with neonatal care provision.
Overall the rate of intrapartum deaths has more than halved since 1993 from 0.62 to 0.28 per 1,000 total births which represents a reduction of around 220 deaths per year.
As part of the new strategy the government has pledged that families who suffer stillbirth or life-changing injuries to their babies will be offered an independent investigation to find out what went wrong and why. Full-term stillbirths will be investigated by coroners.
The government is also bringing forward from 2030 to 2025 the ambition to halve rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths, and brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth.
Commenting on the strategy announcement, Professor Lesley Regan, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said: "We are delighted that the Government has agreed to expand the RCOG’s Each Baby Counts programme, which has been hugely successful in securing the trust of both the midwifery and obstetric communities, with 100 per cent of Trusts involved in providing maternity services engaging in this important work. The RCOG in partnership with the RCM believes that we can build on this buy-in from frontline clinical staff by providing them with the support they need to translate lessons learned into improvements in everyday care.
"We are committed to sharing the expertise we have gained from Each Baby Counts, and our understanding of the complex interplay of factors that lead to stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain damage during term labour, to work with partners such as NHS Improvement to expand the work and reach of the Maternal and Neonatal Safety Collaborative and the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch as they undertake their investigations.
"Expansion of the national strategy to include a focus on preterm birth and brain injury will likewise help provide a more complete picture of maternity safety, strengthening our evidence base to help us deliver ever more effective care."