Report highlights ‘striking’ inequalities in UK maternal deaths

By Hollie Ewers on 02 November 2018 UK Pregnancy Report MBRRACE Maternal Death Maternal Mental health

Maternal deaths are not evenly spread across the UK population, the latest MBRRACE-UK report finds.

The figures reveal that black women are five times, and Asian women two times, more likely to die as a result of complications in their pregnancy than white women.

Age was also a factor with women aged 35-39 two times and women aged 40 or over three times at a greater risk of dying than women aged 20-24.

The report MBRRACE-UK: Saving lives, improving mothers’ care reveals that in the UK 9.8 women per 100,000 die in pregnancy or around childbirth, with heart disease the leading cause of women dying during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy. Most women who died had multiple health problems or other vulnerabilities, such as addiction, abuse or domestic violence. 

The report examines in detail the care of women who died during or up to one year after pregnancy between 2014 and 2016 in the UK and Ireland from mental health conditions, blood clots (thrombosis and thromboembolism), cancer, and homicide, and women who survived major bleeding (haemorrhage).

It says that maternal suicide is the fifth most common cause of women’s deaths during pregnancy and its immediate aftermath, and the leading cause of death over the first year after pregnancy.

Emerging trends are confirmed in the report with women now often older, heavier and having more complex physical and mental health conditions when they become pregnant and, therefore, at higher risk of complications.

Improvements that could be made in care to prevent deaths in the future have also been highlighted in the report.

RCM head of quality and standards Mandy Forrester said: ‘Every maternal death is a heart-breaking tragedy which leaves families devastated and is particularly difficult for children left without a mother.

‘The RCM believes continuity of carer is vital to improving the care women receive while pregnant and it crucially could save lives… This is even more so important particularly for women with pre-existing health and mental health conditions who are being cared for by a multidisciplinary team of maternity professionals.’

Mandy added that the need for improved communication between maternity professionals and those in other disciplines is paramount, so that if a midwife or doctor spots something is not right for a woman they can share the problem with the right colleagues, so that the right actions can be taken in good time.
‘The RCM is urging policy makers, service planners, commissioners and all healthcare professionals who work in our maternity services to work on the recommendations contained within this report to achieve a greater reduction in the number of maternal deaths and to ensure all women receive safe high quality maternity care,’ she said.
Access the summary and the full report here.