The Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has announced a new ambition to reduce the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths in England by 50% by 2030. 

Responding, Judith Abela, Acting Chief Executive of Sands said:

“We are extremely pleased to hear the government is committing to a targeted reduction in the numbers of stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain injuries in babies.  Sands has worked tirelessly since its Why17? Campaign in 2008 to put these tragic deaths on the national agenda and we look forward to seeing the detail of how this will be achieved. 

“5712 babies died before during or shortly after birth in the UK in 2013, that’s over 100 babies every week. We know that many any of these deaths are potentially avoidable and a 20% reduction by 2020 should be easily achieved with standardisation of antenatal, intrapartum and neonatal care across England.

“It’s refreshing to hear that the government will commit funds to this reduction, to better monitor babies in labour where poor understanding of and response to the baby’s fetal heart monitoring is often the cause of brain injury and death during childbirth. 

“We are particularly pleased to hear the government’s funding commitment of £500,000 towards a new system enabling units to properly review a death when it happens. There is huge variation across England in the quality of mortality reviews undertaken to understand why babies die and to learn lessons about critical gaps in quality of care. This issue was highlighted by the Morecambe Bay Enquiry earlier this year, which identified a series of tragic and avoidable deaths of both mothers and babies, which spanned a decade.

“We hope those funds will go to supporting vital work Sands and the Department of Health have developed in consultation with a wide group of stakeholders, including the Royal Colleges, to create a national learning tool. This work needs to be transformed into an electronic tool. We very much hope the government will urgently take this work forward.

“However saving babies’ lives and improving care is not only achieved through technological innovation. We know stillbirths occur when antenatal guidelines set out by NICE are not followed by health professionals. Supporting resources and training for midwives, and protecting the time they spend with women, as their first point of contact, is also vital. 

“We also know from the huge variation in mortality figures across England that women living in poverty and women from ethnic backgrounds are at increased risk. Every woman in Britain should be able to expect the same high standard of care from their local services, whoever and wherever they are.”