New data shows COVID-19 associated with rise in maternal deaths

Data published today confirms the UK’s unacceptable disparities in maternal deaths and shows the urgent need for Government to act.

The latest report from MBRRACE-UK shows that Black women are at 4 times higher risk than White women. Asian women are at higher risk than White women. And those living in the most deprived areas are twice as likely to die during or shortly after childbirth compared to women from the least deprived.

The report on perinatal and maternal deaths shows that complications from COVID-19 were the leading cause of maternal death in the UK in the period 2019-2021, during or up to 6 weeks after the end of pregnancy.  

Data from previous research shows that pregnant women who developed complications as a result of COVID-19 were more likely to either be unvaccinated or not have received all of the recommended doses of the vaccination. 

Heart disease was the second most frequent cause of death, followed by blood clots (thrombosis) and mental health related causes. 

There was a small increase in women’s death rate across 2019-2021 compared to 2018-2020. When women who died as a result of COVID-19 were excluded, there was a very slight decrease. 

Helping Trusts monitor their progress 

MBRACCE-UK has also released data showing rates of perinatal mortality (stillbirths and very early neonatal deaths) for individual NHS Trusts and Health Boards up to 2021. 

The MBRRACE-UK team has developed new ways to present this information so individual Trusts and Health Boards can monitor their progress over time. 

Rob Wilson, Head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit welcomes this development: 

“It’s vital that governments and health services across the UK use this insight to ensure that effective support gets to those areas that need to improve as quickly as possible. There’s currently too much variation in outcomes for mothers and babies between services. 

“Next weeks the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit will be publishing our report on progress – highlighting key areas where action is required to save more babies’ lives. Part of this is making sure that we have an effective system that supports services to improve.” 

Professor Marian Knight MBE, Professor of Maternal and Child Population Health at Oxford Population Health and maternal reporting lead, said:

“Persistent disparities in maternal health remain. It is critical that we are working towards more inclusive care where women are listened to, their voices are heard, and we are acting upon what they are telling us.” 

Information can be accessed from the MBRRACE-UK website 

The full MBRRACE-UK Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report for births in 2021 will be published in September 2023 and the Confidential Enquiry into Perinatal Deaths examining the role of ethnicity will be published in December 2023. 

The Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit Saving Babies’ Lives Progress Report will be published on Monday 15 May 2023.