A third of UK baby deaths 'avoidable'

There are too many avoidable stillbirths, deaths and brain injuries in babies born in the UK, according to a new report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists

The ‘Each Baby Counts’ report has recommended new measures to improve maternity care and support maternity teams in escalating critical situations, after analysing 1,130 cases of babies who met the eligibility criteria, out of around 677,192 babies born at term in the UK in 2017. 

Launched in 2014, the report is part of a national quality improvement programme that aims to reduce the number of babies who die or are left severely disabled as a result of incidents that happen during term labour.

The report found that in 2017 there were:

  • 130 stillbirths (12 per cent of eligible cases)
  • 150 babies born alive following labour but died within the first seven days after birth (13 per cent of eligible cases)
  • 850 babies who had severe brain injury (75 per cent of eligible cases)

The report also found that 714 babies reviewed, or 72 per cent of cases, might have had a different outcome had different care been given. 

This number had reduced in 2017 from 76 per cent in 2015, the report noted.

In the cases in which different care might have led to a different outcome, there was an average of nine contributory factors.

The most commonly identified factors included:

  • a lack of timely recognition of women and babies at risk
  • communication problems
  • training and education issues
  • human factors and inadequacies related to the monitoring of the baby’s well-being during labour.

Detailed analysis of 986 fully completed local reviews revealed 358 cases of a failure to identify a high-risk situation, escalate appropriately and transfer a woman or baby in a timely way, equal to 36 per cent of cases.

Edward Morris, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said, ‘There are still too many avoidable baby deaths and brain injuries occurring during term birth in the UK – even one preventable case is one too many. We owe it to each and every one affected to find out why these deaths and harms occur, in order to prevent future cases where possible.

‘Even though the majority of babies are born healthy and well, we are absolutely determined to reduce any harm, in line with the Government’s national ambition and the NHS Long Term Plan.

‘National initiatives to improve maternity care are underway across the health system to make the NHS the safest place to give birth in the world.

‘All maternity units across the country want to provide the highest quality of care for women and their babies, and we urge them to take forward the important recommendations in this report.’

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