Saving Babies’ Lives 2023 progress report – are overstretched maternity services leading to avoidable losses?

A joint report published this month by baby loss charities, Sands and Tommy’s, suggests that babies are dying needlessly due to overstretched maternity services, failures to adhere to national safety standards, and persistent social and racial inequalities.

Maternity services across the NHS in England have been firmly under the spotlight as a result of the lengthy investigation into Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital NHS Trust. The final report, released in 2022, led to all Hospital Trusts across having to take immediate action to ensure there were improvements in care and safety in maternity services across England.  Further to this investigations are ongoing at a number of Hospital Trusts into their maternity services as a result of concerns raised.

The Saving Babies’ Lives 2023 progress report published this week reveals that more than 5,000 babies are sadly stillborn or die within the first four weeks of life in the UK each year. Whilst progress has been made to reduce this number since 2010, where the figure was nearer to 6,500, the report states that in 2021/22 nearly a fifth of stillbirths were potentially avoidable should better care have been provided.

In England, the government has set an ambition to halve rates of stillbirths, maternal deaths, neonatal deaths and serious brain injury by 2025, relative to the 2010 rate. Whilst interim targets to reduce this by 20% were met in 2010, the rates have since increased again in 2021 and are now off-track and are set to miss the 2025 targets. With 38% of maternity units in England and Wales being rated as inadequate or requiring improvement by the Care Quality Commission it is clear there is a lot of work to be done in trying to reduce the number of babies lost.

Robert Wilson, Head of Sands and Tommy’s joint policy unit, said “Losing a baby throughout pregnancy or shortly after birth is not just ‘one of those things’ that must be accepted. Too often, losses are occurring because of care that is not in line with nationally agreed standards.”

The report goes on to advise that systemic issues are present within maternity and neonatal services that need to be addressed. The ratings of maternity services across the country suggests that safety and quality of services in England are declining. A survey conducted of families and their experience of care showed there to be persistent issues around women and those involved in the birthing process not being listened too. Hospital Trusts also appear to be failing to learn from reviews and investigations following tragic events. It is only by learning from and acting upon the reviews and investigations that avoidable deaths will be prevented in the future.

Karen Reynolds, Partner within the Clinical Negligence team, has reflected upon the report findings: “We are pursuing claims against a number of Hospital Trusts around the country relating to poor maternity care and as such the findings of this report are not a surprise to Freeths. Hospital Trusts must ensure that patients are listened to and when errors are made, they investigate and learn from them to ensure such tragic events will be prevented from happening again.”

Stillborn and Neonatal Death Claims

The death of a baby is a devastating time for a parent and their family, but this news can be even more distressing if something has gone wrong with the management of the birth. In these situations, the outcome can be devastating and life changing for those involved.In a significant number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths nothing can be done to prevent this from happening. There are cases however, where better management during pregnancy or monitoring of the baby could have prevented the tragedy. Every parent has a right to know what happened to their baby and the experienced team at Freeths can assist parents with obtaining answers to their questions.

Our clinical negligence team across Freeths has years of experience in dealing with the effects of poor maternity care, birth injuries to mother and baby and stillbirth. If you think that you, or a loved one, may have been affected by negligent medical care during pregnancy or birth, you are welcome to contact our team to discuss how we can help and support you:-

The content of this page is a summary of the law in force at the date of publication and is not exhaustive, nor does it contain definitive advice. Specialist legal advice should be sought in relation to any queries that may arise.

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