In a report published today (14 May), the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit says progress towards reducing stillbirths and neonatal deaths has stalled across the UK.

It estimates at least 800 babies’ lives may have been saved with better care last year and says ‘meaningful action’ is needed to address ‘stark and persistent inequalities’ between rates of baby loss among different groups.

The Saving Babies’ Lives 2024: Progress Report is the second annual update from the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit. The report highlights ongoing differences in outcomes for babies from different ethnic backgrounds, and between those from the most and least deprived areas of the UK. 

The most recent data (2021), shows the rate of both stillbirths and neonatal deaths among Black babies was almost double the rate among White babies and double that of the overall rate in the UK. The rate of stillbirths in the most deprived areas of the UK was double that in the least deprived areas.

The report includes figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request which show almost £5bn was spent on obstetric services, midwifery services and neonatal critical care in England in 2021/22.

The Department of Health and Social Care has consistently highlighted its investment of an additional £165m a year to improve maternity and neonatal care since 2021, increasing to £185m a year from April 2024.

“Based on a spend of £5bn in 2021/22, annual spending on maternity and neonatal services in England should have risen by more than £450m in 2022/23 and by £920m in 2023/24, just to keep pace with inflation.

“This failure to pledge at least enough additional funds to keep pace with inflation is unacceptable and short-sighted when so many recent reports have underlined the need to improve the quality and safety of maternity and neonatal services.

"This is not about resources alone but about ensuring that care is being delivered in line with nationally-agreed standards. The Government has still not grasped the scale of the improvement needed to achieve its own ambitions to save more babies’ lives."

- Robert Wilson, head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit

The target in England is to halve the rate of stillbirth, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025 compared with 2010, which is not on track to be met. And Government targets to reduce the rate of premature birth in England to below 6% by 2025 are also falling short.

Wales lagging behind the rest of the UK on saving babies’ lives

The stillbirth rate in Wales has been higher than any other UK nation since 2014, and there has been little progress on reducing rates of neonatal mortality over the last 10 years.

Although there is an ambition in England to halve rates of stillbirth, neonatal death, preterm birth, maternal death and brain injury by 2025, relative to 2010, there is no equivalent ambition in Wales. 

The report also highlights that fewer reviews are completed in Wales following the death of a baby compared to the rest of the UK. These reviews are vital in understanding whether anything could be learned that could save babies’ lives in the future, and for parents to get answers to their questions about why their baby died.

“Our report makes clear that the Welsh Government must commit to targets for reducing pregnancy loss and baby deaths and eliminating inequalities. These targets should be the driving force behind a comprehensive programme of policy activity, with the funding and resources this needs. 

“So many recent reports have underlined the need to improve the quality and safety of maternity and neonatal services. In the absence of evidence to the contrary, we believe that these issues are as relevant in Wales as the rest of the UK, and the Welsh Government should do everything in its power to tackle these issues and save babies’ lives.”

- Robert Wilson, head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit 

Current scale of pregnancy loss and baby deaths in the UK is ‘not inevitable’.

The Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit is calling on all four UK nations to make a clear commitment to eliminating inequalities in pregnancy and baby loss. 

“Today’s Saving Babies’ Lives Progress Report makes clear that there is a long way to go to make the UK the safest place in the world to have a baby. Despite increasing policy focus on maternity safety over recent years, the fundamental change required to ensure safe, equitable care for all is simply not happening. 

"We need an NHS workforce that is supported to meet this challenge, given the right training and time to do it, so they can give everyone personalised care that acknowledges their experience of pregnancy and any previous losses.

“It’s so sad and shocking that babies are dying every day in the UK, and some babies are more at risk of dying than others. There are stark and persistent inequalities in baby loss, and we know that health inequities arise from systemic issues, including racism. Half of the parents who took part in the Sands Listening Project believed that they had received worse care or been treated differently by healthcare staff because of their ethnicity.

“There is no doubt that listening to parents saves babies’ lives. Sands is ensuring that bereaved parents' voices are at the heart of our fight to improve maternity safety and reduce inequalities. Sands is here for anyone who has experienced pregnancy or baby loss, always, because every baby and every family matters to us." 

- Clea Harmer, Sands' Chief Executive

Sands has been keeping up the pressure on the current government but they are not on track to meet the current national maternity safety ambitions. 

The next government must commit to renew and enhance these ambitions and you can help us keep this issue at the forefront of all political representatives in this general election year. 

You may already have joined our campaign to tackle inequalities in maternity care. We will be launching the next phase of this in the coming days.

Please sign up now so we can take action together to save babies’ lives.

Download the full Saving Babies' Lives 2024 Progress Report


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