An inquiry led by the University of Leicester has found that hospitals are missing key opportunities to save the lives of hundreds of babies in the UK. The University’s report comes just a week after the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt pledged to improve mortality rates among mothers and new-borns to reduce the numbers of stillbirth and neonatal deaths by 2030. Britain is ranked 33 out of 35 in the developed world for its stillbirth rates with more than 3,600 stillbirths reported in the UK every year.  

The inquiry focused on stillbirths that happen from 37 weeks onwards (full term) and in babies who had no congenital abnormalities. These two groups make up about a third of all cases of stillbirths. It has been found that, in almost half of the cases, women had contacted their maternity units because of reduced foetal movements. In around half of these instances, the inquiry has shown that opportunities to potentially save the baby were missed. If appropriate action had been taken, the deaths could have been avoided.  

The report author, Professor Draper of the University of Leicester, said: “The panel identified a number of areas where improvements of care are required which, if implemented, could lead to a reduction in this type of stillbirth, representing missed opportunities in the provision of antenatal care.” 

Judith Abela, acting chief executive of the charity Sands has said: “It’s alarming that 15 years after a similar report, there are still critical gaps in antenatal care, suggesting we have learnt very little in the interim. This report confirms the concerns of hundreds of parents Sands support every year that not enough is being done to prevent babies from dying.” 

Amy Milner, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “While a large proportion of stillbirths and neonatal deaths are unavoidable, there are a significant proportion of deaths which could have been avoided if expectant mothers had been made aware of the various risk factors and had been appropriately monitored throughout their pregnancy. Sadly, we have acted for many parents who have lost their baby and who approach us wanting answers about what went wrong and whether the death could have been avoided with different care. More often than not, in our experience, it is clear that the deaths were avoidable.  

“We therefore agree that this is an important issue that the NHS needs to focus on, not least because the increasing number of avoidable deaths/ birth injuries are leading to an increase in the number of medical negligence claims. In turn, this creates an additional financial burden on the NHS which has paid out over £1 billion this year alone in compensation to families effected by stillbirths, neonatal deaths and birth injuries.”