Government drive to cut stillbirths

By Julie Griffiths on 28 November 2017 Secretary of State for Health Stillbirth Neonatal Death Premature Birth Safety

The secretary of state for health Jeremy Hunt has set out plans to improve maternity safety with more rigorous investigation.

In an announcement made today, he will unveil the government’s intention to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law.

This will meant that families who suffer the trauma of stillbirth or life changing injuries to their babies will be offered an independent investigation to find out what went wrong and why.

The government is also setting out to halve the rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries occurring during or soon or after birth by 2025, bringing forward their target, which was previously set for 2030 – a move which would save more than 4000 thousand lives.

The health secretary aims to reduce the rate of premature births from 8% to 6% by 2025.

He says the government will also work to support the RCM and RCOG’s Each Baby Counts Learn and Support programme to reduce the number of babies who die or are left severely disabled as a result of incidents occurring during labour.

A new e-learning programme will be launched too, to help healthcare professionals improve outcomes for babies, mothers and families through the delivery of safer care. 

The learning modules, developed by Health Education England e-Learning for Healthcare, NHS Improvement and a range of experts, focus on four clinical areas: respiratory conditions, hypoglycaemia, jaundice, asphyxia (perinatal hypoxia-ischaemia). 

An additional module also raises awareness of the importance of keeping mother and baby together. The programme is part of the Atain initiative, which aims to reduce avoidable causes of harm that can lead to infants born at term being admitted to a neonatal unit.

The health secretary is expected to say: ‘The tragic death or life changing injury of a baby is something no parent should have to bear, but one thing that can help in these agonising circumstances is getting honest answers quickly from an independent investigator. Too many families have been denied this in the past, adding unnecessarily to the pain of their loss. 

‘Countless mothers and fathers who have suffered like this say that the most important outcome for them is making sure lessons are learnt so that no-one else has to endure the same heartbreak. These important changes will help us to make ‎that promise in the future.'

A range of further initiatives announced today include launching a national online platform for maternity safety champions early in 2018 to share best practice, and enabling NHS trusts that demonstrate progress against 10 maternity safety improvement actions to receive a discount of at least 10% from their CNST maternity premium.

The RCM and RCOG welcome this refreshed maternity safety strategy and the targets and commitments it contains and highlight how they are committed to speaking with one, united voice on maternity safety and ensuring every woman has a good birth, with the best possible experience and outcomes for her and her baby.

They are also committed to providing a shared vision of a modern maternity team whose common purpose is supporting best practice, respectful relationships, strong leadership and putting women at the centre of care.

RCM CEO Gill Walton said: ‘Midwives are in a unique position to help achieve this, as they are the one healthcare professional whom all women will see during their pregnancy and birth, and therefore have a clear role in ensuring care is coordinated, safe and, most importantly, personal.

‘Much has been done already through an array of initiatives to improve the safety of maternity care, and this revised strategy will give everyone involved in maternity care the opportunity to reflect on past successes and focus on key areas where more still needs to be done.'

RCOG president Professor Lesley Regan said: ‘We are delighted that the government has agreed to expand the RCOG’s Each Baby Counts programme, which has been hugely successful in securing the trust of both the midwifery and obstetric communities, with 100% of trusts involved in providing maternity services engaging in this important work. The RCOG in partnership with the RCM believes that we can build on this buy-in from frontline clinical staff by providing them with the support they need to translate lessons learned into improvements in everyday care.

‘We are committed to sharing the expertise we have gained from Each Baby Counts, and our understanding of the complex interplay of factors that lead to stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain damage during term labour, to work with partners such as NHS Improvement to expand the work and reach of the Maternal and Neonatal Safety Collaborative and the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch as they undertake their investigations.

‘Expansion of the national strategy to include a focus on preterm birth and brain injury will likewise help provide a more complete picture of maternity safety, strengthening our evidence base to help us deliver ever more effective care.’