Although the stillbirth and neonatal mortality rate in the UK has fallen by a fifth in the last decade, there are still around 3,000 stillbirths every year in the UK. Of this figure, it is estimated that poor care in maternity units could be causing 600 preventable stillbirths a year. The number of stillbirths and maternity care concerns has triggered a major Government review of maternity care generally, as well as specifically the way in which maternity units handle stillbirth risk to try and reduce these numbers.
Alongside these Government initiatives, NHS England has introduced a pilot programme called the ‘Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle’.
The guidance is designed to tackle stillbirth and early neonatal deaths by bringing four elements to the forefront of care:
Since the programme was implemented across 19 maternity units in England, there has already been a reported 20% reduction in the number of stillbirths. In particular there was a major increase in the detection of small babies and more mothers were taught the importance of fetal movement awareness and to attend hospital if a problem occurs. It is hoped that as this guidance is rolled out across England, a significant number of stillbirths will be prevented.
Amy Milner, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches who specialises in obstetric cases, says: “Sadly, our team continues to see an increase in the number of enquiries we receive from parents who have lost their baby in utero (stillborn) or in the neonatal period (shortly after birth). More often than not, from the cases that we are asked to investigate, the loss is preventable and comes down to a lack of advice for expectant parents in respect of monitoring their baby’s movement and seeking advice if there is any change in this pattern, failing to detect fetal growth restriction and failing to effectively monitor the baby during labour.
“Any scheme with an aim to reduce the number of stillbirths / early neonatal deaths is therefore very welcome, particularly one that ensures there is more risk assessment, effective monitoring throughout pregnancy and labour, and that parents are given more advice on what to keep an eye on during pregnancy. A significant number of enquiries we receive relate to the failure to appropriately deal with a mother’s concern that her baby is not moving as much, and often if that mother had been given better advice about fetal movements, then issues would have been more likely to be picked up at an earlier stage which may have ultimately improved the outcome.”