More investment in pregnancy research needed to reduce inequities

A report shows that for every £1 spent on pregnancy care in the UK, just 1p is spent on pregnancy research. As the nation’s largest public charity funding pregnancy research, we know the impact research has on saving babies’ lives. Here’s why much greater investment in research is needed.

Today the APPG on Medical Research (a group of MPs from different parties with an interest in research) has published a new report making the case for why medical research is a crucial tool for reducing health inequities across the UK. 

Earlier this year, the Sands & Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit submitted evidence to the report, explaining why much more needs to be done to tackle stark inequities in maternity outcomes and why medical research has a key part to play in this. 

We also argued that research and researchers need to be diverse – people with lived experience must be involved, and research across different disciplines such as basic science, epidemiology, public health and social research is vital.   

We know that in the UK: 

  • The stillbirth rate for babies of Black ethnicity is over twice that for babies of White ethnicity, and neonatal death rates are 43% higher.  

  • Babies of Asian ethnicity have stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates around 60% higher than White babies. 

  • Black women are at 40% higher risk of miscarriage than White women

  • Babies born to women and birthing people living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to be stillborn and at a 73% higher risk of neonatal death compared to babies born to those living in the least deprived areas. 

With investment in more medical research, we can help reduce these inequities and improve maternity care for everyone. That’s why Tommy’s remains committed to growing research funding. Research is also vital for monitoring and evaluating progress and understanding whether policies designed to reduce disparities are working. 

By funding research, we can grow evidence and improve care.  

Kate Davies, Research, Policy & Information Director at Tommy’s says: “Less is currently spent on research to find the answers to stop pregnancy complications and improve care than is spent on other health conditions, yet some of the biggest disparities in all areas of health are experienced during pregnancy and shortly afterward. 

“As a leading funder, Tommy’s – enabled by generous donations from our supporters – is driving the research which improves our understanding of baby loss and pregnancy complications and then helps shape policy and improve care.” 

The APPG’s report calls on the Government to play a greater role in rallying research investment from outside the charity sector and includes a series of recommendations: 

  • A Government-led, overarching, accountable strategy prioritising research to address health disparities is needed. 

  • There must be greater diversity of voices be involved in all stages and areas of research. This should be promoted through guidance and incentivisation. 

  • NHS England and local Integrated Care Systems should play a larger role in reducing barriers to getting research findings into policy and practice. 

Kate continues: “Through our Tommy's research centres we strive to always involve people from underserved groups. We welcome the report’s recommendation that voices from these groups don’t just need to be heard, but prioritised in research.  

“Of course, this can only be done with proper funding. In order to see a real change for families, we’re urging the government to increase the overall share of pregnancy research funding. It’s also so important that we continue to find ways to implement research breakthroughs into effective health interventions within the NHS as quickly as possible for families.” 

Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive, says:

When a baby dies during pregnancy or is born too soon, parents are often told that it’s ‘just one of those things’. Tommy’s believes that pregnancy complications and baby loss are neither inevitable nor acceptable. The vast difference in care and outcomes for parents depending on their ethnicity or where they live is also unacceptable. This gap can be, and must be, closed, and care improved for everyone. 

Our research proves that we can find answers and prevent babies from dying before, during and after birth. However, we need more funding for more research into reproductive health so that all parents are given answers as to why it is happening and how we can prevent it happening again.