The Government recently launched the new NHS Long Term Plan in England, setting out its priorities and the framework that NHS trusts will operate within for the next 10 years.

Encouragingly, maternity and neonatal services are prominent in the plan, including the Government’s commitment to halve stillbirths and neonatal baby deaths by 2025.

Other key pledges include:

  • The roll out of the Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle across every maternity unit. Trusts where the full Care Bundle has already been piloted have seen deaths fall by 20%.
  • A renewed focus on preventing pre-term births (before 37 weeks gestation).
  • A new targeted approach to making sure women are cared for by the same midwife throughout their pregnancy, labour and after birth, with a particular emphasis on women from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.
  • A commitment to increase the number of neonatal nurses and investment in accommodation for families whose baby is being cared for in a neonatal setting.
  • The roll out of maternity outreach clinics, designed to integrate maternity and psychological services.
  • A focus on supporting women in their health choices during pregnancy, for example providing specialist smoking cessation services.
  • A focus on reducing health inequalities, for example by increasing access to perinatal mental health services.

Sands has welcomed the proposals and the emphasis on improving the safety and quality of maternity and neonatal care. However, it remains to be seen how successfully the plan will be implemented.

In particular, funding will be key and neonatal and maternity services have historically been underfunded.

Clear funding commitments are absent from the Long Term Plan so we will have to wait for the Comprehensive Spending Review, later this year, before knowing how the Government intends to fund its ambitions for the NHS in England.

Our Chief Executive, Clea Harmer, said: “More must be done to provide safe and effective care, to prevent further deaths in the future and reduce the number of babies that die before, during and after birth every day.   

“Addressing health inequalities must be a priority for Government in its work to half the rates of stillbirth and neonatal death by 2025. It was encouraging to see the government committing to accelerate action to achieve this goal in the NHS Long Term.

“We welcome the fact that continuity of carer teams are being rolled out across the country, with the aim that pregnant women will be offered the opportunity to have the same midwife caring for them throughout their pregnancy, during birth and postnatally. This will be targeted towards women from BAME groups and those living in deprived areas.

“The death of a baby has a profound and lasting impact on parents and the wider family. We know this from the many voices we have heard and the thousands of families we have supported over the past four decades.

“After decades of stagnation, the UK’s stillbirth rate is now falling. However other similar countries’ stillbirth rates are falling much faster than the UK. While welcoming this and the broader focus on reducing health inequalities in the long term plan, we believe much more needs to be done to address the variations in stillbirth related to race, age and deprivation across the UK to reduce the number of babies dying.”

Sands has long recognised that improving public health is an important aspect of preventing baby deaths.

To find out more, visit the Safer Pregnancy website which is aimed at mothers-to-be. The website provides clear information about stillbirth risks as well as advice on things women can do to stay healthy and keep safe in pregnancy.