The Office for National Statistics has released new figures (10 January 2019) which show that the stillbirth rate has fallen in England and Wales by nearly one fifth over the last decade.
When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year.
Statistics show that in 2017, there were 4.2 stillbirths per 1,000 births. The data also shows that in England, the stillbirth rate was higher in the most deprived areas, with 5.5 stillbirths per 1,000 total births, compared with 3.0 per 1,000 total births in the least deprived areas.
Jane Brewin, Chief Executive of Tommy’s, says: 'Tommy’s welcomes the news that stillbirth rates in England and Wales are the lowest they have been in the last decade and we congratulate everyone who has worked so hard to achieve this in the NHS with the support of policy makers and the Government. However, we have a long way to go before the UK becomes the safest place in the world to give birth'.
Nine babies are stillborn every day, causing devastation for the whole family. Tommy’s funds medical research to make pregnancy and birth safer for everyone. To reduce miscarriage, preterm birth and stillbirth we need to continue to fund more research to find effective screening tests and treatments, and we need to concentrate on implementing good practice around the NHS to achieve best standards of care, everywhere.
In Manchester, where Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre is located, stillbirth rates have reduced by 34% since the centre opened in 2010. The centre focuses on finding the missing links between stillbirth, the placenta, and the baby’s growth and has clinics which translate Tommy’s cutting-edge research into cutting-edge care.
Jane Brewin continues:
Tommy’s believes that everyone deserves the best possible care in pregnancy, such as the best-practice care which is available in the Tommy’s centres. We call on the NHS to address the unacceptable differences from one hospital to another, and one region to another, which cannot be simply explained by the demographics of their patients.
Tommy’s is working tirelessly to ensure learnings from our stillbirth research are implemented across the NHS, to support more women and ultimately save babies’ lives.
National stillbirth targets
In 2014, the Government announced an ambition to halve the rate of stillbirths in England by 2025. Tommy's clinic researchers have contributed to their plan, the NHS England Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle. Hospitals which have implemented the Care Bundle have seen a 22% decline in stillbirth rates. This is a more rapid and sustained fall than has been seen in the national stillbirth rates.
Professor Alexander Heazell, Clinical Director of Tommy’s Stillbirth Research Centre in Manchester, says: “This large scale evaluation of the NHS England Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle shows that the interventions to reduce cigarette smoking, detect small for gestational age babies, inform women about reduced fetal movements and improve monitoring of babies during labour, have been increasingly implemented in the early adopter maternity units. Over the same time period stillbirths have fallen by 20%, meaning 161 fewer stillbirths in the participating units.
“This is an encouraging step towards achieving the UK government’s ambition of halving stillbirths by 2025. Importantly, this project has also highlighted areas which need further work - to reduce preterm birth and ensure that intervention is focused on women and babies who require it. This project shows the importance of continually developing and evaluating the care we give to women and babies.”
Tommy’s research aims to reduce stillbirth rates by finding the missing links between stillbirth, the placenta, and the baby’s growth. Most of our stillbirth research takes place in our Manchester Research Centre, where we have made great progress in our Rainbow and Placenta Clinics. Research focuses on three main areas:
1. Understanding the causes
2. Treatment and prevention
3. Improving care for women at risk of, and following, a stillbirth