Baby deaths could be avoided, says Sands

Martin and Sarah Speake

Martin and Sarah SpeakeEvery hour and half in the UK a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. That’s 17 babies every day. There are strong indications that significant numbers of these 17 deaths could be avoided and babies’ lives saved.

A report, Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009, by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, backed up by new research, highlights several problem areas that are contributing to this level of baby loss, the long-lasting impact of these deaths, and recommends changes that could save babies’ lives.

The facts today:

  • 17 babies die every day in the UK (10 are stillbirths, 7 are neonatal deaths) totalling almost 6,500 baby deaths a year – the equivalent of 16 jumbo jets crashing every year.
  • This is four times the number of people who die every year of MRSA (1,593 MRSA deaths in 2007, UK Statistics Authority).
  • This is double the number of adults who lose their lives on Britain’s roads every year (2007 – 2,940 people were killed on the roads, Department of Transport).
  • Ten times more babies are stillborn than die of cot death every year in the UK.
  • The stillbirth rate has remained almost unchanged for the past 10 years. (CEMACH)

A: Problems contributing to baby deaths:
Under-resourced maternity and neonatal services:

  • Maternity services in the UK are under considerable strain from lack of resources and funding and there is strong evidence to suggest that this is contributing to baby deaths. (The last official enquiry by CESDI, Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy, found that nearly half of all unexplained stillbirths, might have been avoided with better antenatal care.)
  • New evidence from a Sands survey of 270 bereaved parents found that almost half of parents (48%) did not feel that everything possible was done to save their baby’s life, they felt rushed through their antenatal appointments (36%) and not completely confident about the way in which they were cared for in the lead up to their baby’s death (49%).
  • There is a severe shortage of neonatal nurses, with 1,700 posts needing to be filled and only 14 out of 50 intensive care units in the UK providing minimum standards of one-to-one care for sick and premature babies.

Serious shortage of funding for research to understand and prevent stillbirths:

  • Half of all stillborn babies die for no apparent reason – like a ‘cot death in the womb’. The cause of these deaths is very poorly understood because research work is not being funded.
  • There is potential to detect the babies that are at risk of stillbirth, and deliver them early. But if work like this is to succeed we need funding for further research and trials of interventions.
  • There are pockets of excellent research work but much higher levels of funding are needed to enable researchers to do the work they believe could have a real impact on reducing deaths.

Lack of understanding and awareness among both prospective parents and healthcare professionals of the extent and risk of stillbirth and neonatal death:

  • Sands’ new consumer survey of UK adults revealed that awareness of the level of stillbirth is low, with 75% being very surprised that the rate of stillbirth was as high as 300 babies dying every month.
  • The survey also revealed that mums-to-be are not being made aware of the risks of stillbirth with 42% of mothers questioned not receiving any information on stillbirth from their midwife.

Failure of current antenatal screening techniques to identify ‘at-risk’ babies;

  • 50% of all stillbirths are of babies who die for apparently no reason, the majority in ‘low-risk’ pregnancies.

B: Impact of baby deaths – Sands Parents’ survey shows the:

  • Emotional impact on parents – 81% suffered depression and reduced confidence as a result of their loss, a third said the loss of their baby had affected their marriage/relationship.
  • Financial impact on parents – 48% said the death of their baby resulted in them or their partner being less effective at work, which had a negative impact on their career; with a quarter losing earnings as they had to change their job/career.
  • Cost to health and social services – 35% of parents needed extra support from health care services to help with the emotional impact of their baby’s loss;  a third having to take extended sick leave.

C: Sands’ recommendations for change: (as outlined in Sands’ Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009, being presented to Parliament)

  • Increased awareness of how many stillbirths and neonatal deaths there are in the UK.
  • Recognition at the highest levels that these baby deaths are a national problem.
  • Collaboration with other interested parties to create a national strategy to reduce the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the UK and to specifically look at the following:
  • Properly valuing each and every baby’s life.
  • Changing antenatal care by developing a culture of continual risk assessment within maternity service provision in order to identify higher risk pregnancies.
  • Recruiting and training more midwives to ensure the highest levels of care.
  • Better overall resourcing of maternity services to provide a truly 24 hour, 7 days a week level of service and care.
  • More funding for research. Sands believes that £6 million over the next  5 years could significantly reduce the number of babies dying.

Neal Long, Chief Executive of Sands, says, “For too long these deaths have been ignored and yet here is compelling evidence to suggest that many babies’ lives could be saved with better antenatal care, increased funding for maternity services, more midwives and increased funding for research. We want to see action now to save babies’ lives.”

“The devastation my family and I felt when our daughter Grace was stillborn was indescribable”, says actor and playwright, David Haig, a Patron of Sands “No parent whose baby has died wants any other parent to suffer in this way, which is why I, as Grace’s Dad am urging politicians and key decision makers to sit up, and take note of all the thousands of parents devastated by their babies’ deaths. We need a co-ordinated, national strategy to tackle stillbirths and neonatal deaths and we need it now.”

Further findings from Sands Parents and national consumer surveys are highlighted in notes to editors.

The Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009 has been developed to support Sands’ Why17? campaign (launched in June 2008) to increase awareness of baby deaths and raise funds for research to answer the question ‘Why do 17 babies die every single day in the UK?’

To find out more about Sands Why17? campaign and the Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009 go to www.uk-sands.org.

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