Figures published this week by the Office for National Statistics have confirmed that the stillbirth rate for 2019 in England and Wales is the lowest on record.

Overall mortality rates for babies who die within four weeks of birth (neonatal deaths) have plateaued for a decade. The ONS report highlights that for babies who are born from 24 weeks gestation, death rates are falling slightly.

There is an upward trend in babies born alive before 24 weeks – sadly most babies born at very early gestations do not survive. The rise in deaths at early gestations is driving the overall upward pattern for neonatal deaths. 

neonatal mortality rate England and Wales 2007 to 2019

The Government's target to reduce stillbirths in England by 20% by 2020 is on track. Looking at neonatal deaths after 24 weeks gestation only, the mortality reduction target for these babies is also on track.

There is further to go to reach the target to reduce all baby deaths by 50% by 2025. To achieve this we need to see around 750 fewer stillbirths and 750 fewer neonatal deaths each year than in 2019.

While the publication of this detailed data from 2019 is important, timelier reporting is needed to understand in real time, which initiatives are having the biggest impact on reducing the numbers of babies dying.

At the end of last year, we saw that this was possible with provisional birth data, including stillbirths, published in December covering January to September 2020.

This information is vital in giving a national picture to monitor progress against the Government’s ambition to reduce baby deaths.

That is why we are calling for provisional data on stillbirths and neonatal deaths for 2020 to be published earlier than the usual six-month time lag for the full datasets.

Read the full statistical bulletin from the ONS, which includes a detailed explanation of the trends in neonatal deaths: Child and infant mortality in England and Wales: 2019.

For a detailed explanation of overall trends in baby deaths read this February 2020 blog post by Gemma Quayle, Senior Research Officer, Health and Life Events Division, ONS.

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