New figures from MBRRACE-UK show urgent need to improve pregnancy health

The number of women in the UK who die during or soon after pregnancy has risen to its highest in almost 20 years, prompting calls for urgent action to improve services and tackle the underlying causes of poor maternal health.

Figures published today by MBRRACE-UK show that between January 2020 and December 2022, the maternal death rate was 13.41 per 100,000, up from 8.79 per 100,000 in the previous three-year period from 2017-2019.

The figures, which include women who died during pregnancy or within six weeks of their pregnancy ending, are the highest for almost 20 years.

The most common cause of death was thrombosis and thromboembolism (blood clots), followed by COVID-19, heart disease and issues related to mental health.

Even when deaths resulting from COVID-19 are not counted, the maternal death rate reached 11.54 per 100,000, compared with 8.79 in 2017-2019.

Although there has been a small decrease in the overall maternal death rate among women from Black ethnic backgrounds, they remain three times more likely than White women to die during pregnancy or soon afterwards.

Women from Asian backgrounds are twice as likely as White women to die during pregnancy or soon afterwards, while maternal death rates among women in the most deprived areas of the UK are more than twice as high as for those in the least deprived areas.

Kath Abrahams, Chief Executive of Tommy’s, said: 

“Every one of these deaths recorded by MBRRACE-UK represents a family devastated by loss.

“Too many have been let down by a maternity care system that is not functioning as effectively or safely as it should.

“Too many have been affected by a continuing failure to ensure that everyone – no matter their background or ethnicity – has access to the help and services they need for a healthy pregnancy.

“It is utterly unacceptable that we appear to be moving backwards in the UK when it comes to maternal health.

“We will keep working through our research, our clinics and our support services to ensure that we change things for women and birthing people in the future and to support those who have experienced loss.”

MBRRACE-UK will publish its full report on the figures later this year.