According to a study published by Oxford University, the number of women in the UK who die during or immediately after pregnancy continues to fall. The research covers the period from 2010 to 2012, during which there were 357 women who died either during their pregnancy or in the six weeks after it ended.
Around a quarter of the deaths resulted from sepsis, a severe infection that can develop quickly and affect the whole body, requiring urgent treatment. Pregnant women are particularly susceptible to infections because pregnancy weakens the body's immune system. Nearly 10% of deaths were attributed to 'flu and the researchers concluded that over half of these would have been avoided if the women had been given a 'flu vaccine.
Although the number of deaths from pregnancy-related causes has decreased, deaths during pregnancy from unrelated causes have been static for the last decade. Unrelated problems leading to death include a wide range of pre-existing medical conditions such as cardiac or neurological disease, mental health issues, or infection.
The study concludes that more could be done to improve the clinical care that women receive during and straight after pregnancy to reduce the number of deaths further. Doctors also need to be more aware of women's wider health issues during pregnancy.
Commenting on the research findings, Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team explains: "It is important that doctors are mindful of the need to treat the whole patient, not just their pregnancy. The study suggests that women at higher risk because of physical or mental conditions, whether pregnancy related or not, should be assessed by multi-disciplinary teams. Increased communication between maternity units and specialists in other areas of medicine would help to provide better care to women during and immediately following pregnancy. The two main study conclusions are that increasing awareness among health professionals and managing patients across healthcare teams would further reduce the number of deaths from pre-existing or non-pregnancy related causes. We welcome any steps to achieve that aim."