The Saving Babies’ Lives Progress Report pulls together data from different sources for the first time to give everyone a shared understanding of the burden of pregnancy and baby loss across the UK.
Overall, the report paints a concerning picture with progress stalling and a risk of going backwards. In England the Government’s target to halve the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025 compared to 2010 levels is not on track, and there is no current target or ambition for reducing baby deaths in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.
The report also highlights that despite Government commitments to act on the findings of recent reviews of maternity services, this still hasn’t led to the fundamental change needed to save more babies’ lives.
The report highlights that:
- Nationally-agreed standards of care are too often not being followed, which is contributing to avoidable deaths.
- The voices of bereaved parents are still not being effectively heard and acted upon.
- There are no national targets to reduce inequalities between ethnic groups or areas of deprivation, despite multiple reports highlighting the impact of racism and discrimination which some individuals experience when engaging with health services.
- Staff report working in an increasingly under resourced and stretched system which is having an impact on people’s experience of care.
- Many NHS Trusts and Boards are still not learning from the mistakes that cost lives when things go wrong.
“This report makes clear that the UK is not making enough progress to reduce rates of pregnancy loss and baby death, and there are worrying signs that these rates are now heading in the wrong direction.
“There are stark and persistent inequalities, particularly linked to both ethnicity and deprivation, that have been known about for decades. We all need to move beyond diagnosing the problem to taking meaningful actions that will help address these inequalities, but current limitations in data and evidence are a barrier to progress.
“This report must be a wake-up call for leaders in Government and the NHS to make the fundamental changes that will save babies’ lives. Losing a baby throughout pregnancy or shortly after birth is not just ‘one of those things’ that must be accepted. Too often losses are occurring because of care that is not in line with nationally agreed standards. There are also significant workforce pressures, which are affecting the ability to deliver safe care.”
- Robert Wilson, Head of the Joint Policy Unit
Annually in the UK over 5,000 babies are stillborn or die within the first four weeks of life. And around 1 in 6 pregnancies end in miscarriage. However, this is very likely to be an underestimate as comprehensive data on miscarriage are not reported at the UK-level or by any individual nation.
There has also been little progress on reducing the proportion of babies born preterm, with around 50,000 babies born prematurely each year. Being born preterm is an important risk factor for pregnancy loss and baby deaths: in 2020 almost three-quarters of neonatal deaths in the UK were among babies born prematurely.
To make the UK the safest place in the world to have a baby we need:
- Clear targets for every UK nation to save babies’ lives.
- Much stronger commitment, and long-term funding, from Government to eliminate inequalities leading to higher rates of pregnancy loss and baby deaths.
- Maternity services to have the staffing capacity and resources to respond to the changing and often complex care needs of people giving birth in the UK.
- Culture change in the NHS to ensure openness and that lessons are learned when babies die.
- Increased investment in research and evaluation.
- Improvement in the quality and consistency of routine data collection including counting the number of miscarriages each year across the UK.
Driving future changes to save babies’ lives
This is the first in a series of progress reports from the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit, aimed at policy makers from Government and the NHS, charities, and professional bodies.
Through the series, the charities will monitor progress and report on the work that we are doing, to support policy change that will save more babies’ lives and help tackle inequalities.