Provisional figures published last month by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2021, the stillbirth rate in England rose to 4.2 per 1,000 births. If these figures are confirmed, this will undermine progress towards the Government’s ambition to halve stillbirth and neonatal deaths in England by 2025. 

Provisional figures published in March by the Office for National Statistics show that in 2021, the stillbirth rate in England was 4.2 stillbirths per 1,000 births compared with 3.9 in 2020. In other words, for every 10,000 births last year, three more babies died before or during delivery than in 2020. 

This is the first year on year increase in the annual stillbirth rate since 2014, and marks a concerning reversal in the downward trend in stillbirths over recent years. 

It is likely the increase in stillbirths in 2021 is related in some way to the COVID–19 pandemic. The nature of the link is not yet clear, but may be due to the impact on maternity and neonatal services of lockdowns and pressures on the NHS, or in some cases may be the direct effects of the COVID-19 virus on pregnant mothers or on the placenta   Further analysis will help us better understand the underlying causes. 

Government must act  

Understanding why babies die is vital if we are to save more lives. That’s why Sands works with bereaved parents, as well as healthcare professionals and world-leading researchers to find the answers.  

The Department of Health and Social Care has committed to halving the rate of stillbirths and infant deaths in England by 2025. 

But the decline in stillbirths over the last eight years has stalled. If these provisional figures are confirmed by ONS in the coming months there would need to be around 1000 fewer stillbirths  in 2025 to meet the ambition (with current birth rates). We need to see renewed momentum from Government and a step change in efforts to tackle stillbirths this year.   

We will continue to lobby politicians, decision makers and service providers, as well as amplify the voices of bereaved families in the places and to the people who can influence change to save babies’ lives.  

More on the numbers 

These statistics tell the continuing tragic story of those babies who have died before or during their delivery.  

These numbers mean that sadly 2,628 babies were stillborn during 2021, an increase of 199 from 2020 when there were 2,429 stillbirths. 

What do we mean by ‘provisional figures’? 

The ONS has only released provisional figures at this stage; while these figures are likely to be largely correct, final data collection and analysis may result in slight changes. However, we don’t expect final figures to significantly influence the picture that we’re seeing already. 

We are also waiting for ONS data on neonatal deaths for 2021. These are likely to be released in the summer, at the same time as the confirmed stillbirth figures. 

We are here to support bereaved families 

At the heart of our work is the support we provide to bereaved parents and families, and we know that reading this news may be upsetting or triggering for you. 

If you or someone you know needs support, please know, we are here for you


Read the full ONS provisional release here. 

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