Stark figures from 2011 demonstrated that UK maternity care lagged behind many high income countries for stillbirths with the UK being ranked 33 out of 35 countries. Spain and Slovenia were among the countries with the lowest rates of stillbirth. Only France and Bulgaria ranked below the UK.
In the years since those league tables were published, maternity services have come under further scrutiny, particularly with the Morecambe Bay scandal, the independent report for which demonstrated a culture of denial, collusion and incompetence in maternity care.
While many mothers do have a positive experience of giving birth without any adverse consequences, in addition to stillbirths, there are still many instances of babies suffering injury during delivery, as well as neonatal and maternal deaths where there has been avoidable harm.
In a bid to make England one of the safest places to give birth, Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health announced last week that he wants a reduction in the numbers of stillbirths, of 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2030. He has also pledged to cut the number of acquired brain injuries as a result of avoidable harm during delivery. It is recognised that the cost of caring for these babies who often go on to develop cerebral palsy with lifelong physical and cognitive difficulties is a massive cost.
The Government has specifically earmarked a fund of £4m to be used by trusts to improve their equipment or provide training to staff. With typical settlements in this area being at least twice that level, it remains to be seen whether the amount set aside for this project is sufficient to prevent the substandard care which sadly can often result in a serious acquired brain injury or death.
Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) commented on the scheme as follows:
This is an important initiative. It is crucial that all of us involved in maternity care work to reduce tragic outcomes. Much excellent work is already going on in this respect.
The Royal College of Midwives is looking forward to working with the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, policy makers and midwives to support hard working multi-disciplinary teams to achieve even more progress. As we do this we also need to ensure that contributory factors to poor outcomes such as social exclusion and poverty are addressed.’
Dr David Richmond, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said:
Good progress has been made, but the fact is many of these incidents could be avoided with improvements to the care women and their babies receive.’
Clarke Willmott’s highly experienced Clinical Negligence Team has lawyers who are specialists in dealing with Birth Injury claims. If you or a member of your family has been affected by the issues in this article please contact us on 0800 316 8892 for advice on how to bring a claim.