Shocking disparities in perinatal death rates revealed in new report

A new report analysing recent national data on babies dying before or shortly after birth shows a deeply concerning picture of vast inequity across the UK. The Government’s continued failure to consider this situation a priority for action is costing babies’ lives.

Published today, the MBRRACE-UK Perinatal Mortality Surveillance State of the Nation report for births in 2021 shows that in 2021 (the most recent data reported by hospitals and analysed by MBRRACE-UK):

  • Babies of Black ethnicity were more than twice as likely to be stillborn compared to White babies
  • There was a large increase in the rates of stillbirth among babies born to mothers from the most deprived areas of the UK
  • There is wide variation in rates of babies dying between different NHS Trusts and Health Boards across the UK.

Robert Wilson, Head of the Sands & Tommy's Joint Policy Unit, said:  

“This report makes clear that inaction is costing babies’ lives. It paints an alarming picture of baby loss throughout the UK and the situation described in this report is simply unacceptable. This requires a comprehensive response from all levels of Government that matches the urgency and scale of the issue.  

“As well as confirming an overall increase in the rates of babies dying before or shortly after birth in 2021, the report shows marked increases in inequality by ethnicity and deprivation.  

“Our recent Saving Babies’ Lives progress report made clear that urgent action is needed to address the multiple drivers of inequality, to ensure that everyone is receiving care in line with nationally-agreed standards, and a greater focus on learning lessons when babies die.  

“We keep hearing these heartbreaking statistics, but saving babies’ lives and tackling inequalities in pregnancy and baby loss are still not the political priorities they deserve to be.”

In 2021, stillbirth and neonatal death rates increased in the UK, ending the year-on-year reduction across the UK since 2013.

The MBRRACE-UK report also shows that in around one third of stillbirths, no cause is found.  

Researchers at our Tommy’s Centre for Maternal and Fetal Health at the University of Manchester are continuing to try and understand why stillbirths occur, to give parents the answers they deserve after their devastating loss, and to stop it from happening again.

We also see from MBRRACE-UK that a significant number of babies’ deaths are associated with preterm birth, and that the Government is not on track to meet its national ambition set in 2017 to reduce preterm birth by 2025.

Today’s report shows that if everyone had the same outcomes as those living in the least deprived areas these targets would already have been met. Yet the data shows the widest gap in outcomes since 2016.

Kath Abrahams, Tommy’s Chief Executive says:

“At Tommy’s we’re working hard on research which can predict and prevent stillbirth and preterm birth, and we’re committed to understanding and tackling inequity – it must be at the heart of everything we do.  

“The shocking disparity in babies’ and mothers’ rates of death that we see in the UK will only reduce if we turn commenting on inequity into action to address it.

“Everyone deserves access to good, safe, personalised, care, and it’s only by listening to people with lived experience, engaging with communities, and working with organisations led by and representing marginalised groups, that we can tackle the huge disparities which currently exist.

“But it is clear from reports such as MBRRACE-UK's that the scale and complexity of the problem in the UK needs an urgent Government focus, including greater investment in research and specific targets to reduce the huge inequities we can see for families from the ethnicities most affected, and those living in areas with the worst outcomes.”