A report out today from the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit calls for 'transformative change' to save more babies’ lives

Government promises to increase spending on maternity and neonatal services are not enough, says a report by the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit.

Government promises to increase spending on maternity and neonatal services are not enough to drive the ‘transformative change’ needed to save babies’ lives, says a report published today by the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit.

The Saving Babies’ Lives 2024: Progress Report says progress towards reducing stillbirths and neonatal deaths has stalled across the UK.

The report estimates at least 800 babies’ lives may have been saved with better care last year and says ‘meaningful action’ is needed to address ‘stark and persistent inequalities’ between rates of baby loss among different groups.

It makes specific recommendations to improve maternity safety in Wales, where rates of stillbirth have been higher than in any other UK nation since 2014.

The report is the second annual update from the Joint Policy Unit.

It includes figures obtained via a Freedom of Information request which show almost £5bn was spent on obstetric services, midwifery services and neonatal critical care in England in 2021/22.

The Department of Health and Social Care has consistently highlighted its investment of an additional £165m a year to improve maternity and neonatal care since 2021, increasing to £185m a year from April 2024.

Robert Wilson, head of the Joint Policy Unit, said: “Based on a spend of £5bn in 2021/22, annual spending on maternity and neonatal services in England should have risen by more than £450m in 2022/23 and by £920m in 2023/24, just to keep pace with inflation.

“This failure to pledge at least enough additional funds to keep pace with inflation is unacceptable and short-sighted when so many recent reports have underlined the need to improve the quality and safety of maternity and neonatal services.

"This is not about resources alone but about ensuring that care is being delivered in line with nationally-agreed standards.

“The Government has still not grasped the scale of the improvement needed to achieve its own ambitions to save more babies’ lives.

“The target in England is to halve the rate of stillbirth, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025 compared with 2010, which is not on track to be met.

“We are also falling short of Government targets to reduce the rate of premature birth in England to below 6% by 2025.

“We believe these ambitions should be widened to include a clear commitment to eliminating inequalities in pregnancy and baby loss, and rolled out across all four UK nations, with a focus on making the UK the safest place in the world to have a baby.”

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

“As today’s report from the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit makes clear, the current scale of pregnancy and baby loss in the UK is not inevitable.

“Our vision at Tommy’s is to make pregnancy and birth safe - for everyone.

“We’re working hard towards that goal by funding research that is helping to end the devastation of baby loss.

“We need to be confident that the Government and other UK policymakers are doing everything within their power to achieve that ambition, too.”

The report highlights ongoing differences in outcomes for babies from different ethnic backgrounds, and between those from the most and least deprived areas of the UK.

In 2021, the rate of both stillbirths and neonatal deaths among Black babies was almost double the rate among White babies and double that of the overall rate in the UK.

The rate of stillbirths in the most deprived areas of the UK was double that in the least deprived areas.

The report says the targeted NIHR Challenge Fund recently announced by the Government and focused on reducing maternity disparities is ‘a welcome investment’ in a previously under-funded area of research but ‘must form part of a comprehensive strategy to tackle inequalities’.

The proportion of public and charity funding for health-related research which is spent on reproductive health and childbirth has remained at around 2% for the last 20 years.

Robert Wilson said there was a financial case as well as a moral one for investing in maternity and neonatal care services.

“Data from NHS Resolution shows that of the £2.6bn spent on clinical negligence payments in 2022/23, 41% of this is related to maternity, equating to around £1.1bn.”