RCM and other health organisations call for urgent Asian baby deaths enquiry

By Colin Beesley on 08 September 2021 NHS NHS England Maternity Services Maternity Safety BAME RCOG - Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists Sands NCT - National Childbirth Trust

Health organisations including the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) have written to Health Minister Nadine Dorries calling for an urgent confidential enquiry into the deaths of Asian and Asian British babies. This is needed to support Government ambitions to reduce stillbirth and neonatal deaths by 50 per cent by 2025 say the health bodies.

A confidential enquiry looking into the higher rates of deaths of Black and Black British babies compared to the white population is already underway. The letter from the RCM, Sands, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the NCT says a enquiry is also needed to examine the similarly high rates of baby deaths within England’s Asian population. Although this has been proposed, there are concerns that it may not go ahead because NHS England does not have funding for it.

“We must understand why deaths among Asian and British Asian babies are higher than among white babies. It’s the only way we take steps to bring these rates down as much as possible,” said RCM Chief Executive, Gill Walton. “It makes sense to launch an enquiry as soon as possible. Having these enquiries in tandem is not only more efficient but it means we can act more quickly and make a significant contribution towards meeting the Government’s own targets. Much more importantly, it could help prevent the needless deaths of babies and the suffering of women and their families. Failing to do this sends a terrible message out to Asian and British Asian women and their families about how we value them and their babies’ lives. We must value all equally.”

Stillbirth rates for Black and Black British and Asian and British Asian babies are twice as high and 1.6 times higher respectively than for white babies. Stillbirth rates in the most deprived families are also 1.7 times higher than the least deprived.

A recent House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee report into the safety of maternity services in England said that improvements in rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths are good but are not shared equally among all women and babies. ‘Babies from minority ethnic or socioeconomically deprived backgrounds continue to be at significantly greater risk of perinatal death than their white or less deprived peers,’ said the report.

“There is real progress being made to bring down the rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths. We now really need to focus the research and funding to stop this happening in the communities most affected. This enquiry is needed, and needed urgently,” added Gill Walton.

The letter can be read on the Sands website at Enquiry urgently needed into Asian baby deaths | Sands - Stillbirth and neonatal death charity.