After declines over recent years, 2021's confirmed data shows a 0.3% increase in stillbirth rates: from 3.8 in every 1,000 births to 4.1 in every 1,000 births.
Although it may not seem a big increase, these aren’t just figures, they’re families and their babies.
Rates of stillbirth continued to differ across the country, with more deprived areas, including the North East and Yorkshire, experiencing higher rates than the most affluent regions. This means that the most vulnerable women in the UK continue to have worse pregnancy experiences.
We know now, more than ever, just how important our research is to make sure this rate continues to fall and families across the UK have access to the best possible care and support.
Our teams at our Manchester Stillbirth Research Centre are working tirelessly to understand the causes of stillbirth, so we can find ways to identify who is most at risk and develop treatments that will give them the best possible chance of bringing home a happy, healthy baby.
In fact, since 2010, our research centre has reduced the stillbirth rate in the Greater Manchester area by 32% against a much lower national average rate of reduction. This model of care, provided in 'Rainbow Clinics', is now being rolled-out at a number of hospitals across the country, with 25 clinics up and running and a further 14 in development.
We know that COVID-19 has had indirect and direct effects on pregnant women and people over the last 2 years, both by putting maternity services under greater pressure and by increasing the chances of pregnancy complications. Our research has shown that getting COVID-19 during pregnancy could cause problems in the placenta, increasing the risk of complications like premature birth and stillbirth, which is why it’s important pregnant women and people get vaccinated if they can.
Tommy’s researchers have also been carrying out EPOS, a study that follows pregnant women and birthing people from early pregnancy to delivery. Now, our researchers are using this study to find out whether COVID-19 infection during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage or other complications later in pregnancy.
The Government has set an ambition of a 50% reduction in stillbirths by 2025 (compared to 2010 levels), which equates to a rate of 2.6/1,000. From this recent data, it is clear that more needs to be done to make sure stillbirth continues to decline.
Robert Wilson, Head of the Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit, said:
“Today’s data underlines the need for much more concerted action to ensure that the government’s ambition of a 50% reduction in stillbirths by 2025 is achieved. Saving babies’ lives and reducing inequalities must be a priority for government.
“Underneath these figures are individual people. It is incredibly concerning that after declines over recent years, more people are going through the tragedy of losing a baby.
“Sands and Tommy’s Joint Policy Unit will be monitoring progress and holding government to account on its commitments to reducing baby loss and tackling inequality in loss.
“We know that health services, and maternity services in particular, are under huge pressure. It is vital there is adequate investment to support the development of sustainable and safe services, so that everyone can benefit from best-practice care.
“Recent reports have also highlighted the significant impact of the pandemic on maternity services. It’s important we look to understand the extent to which the direct and indirect effects of the pandemic may have contributed to this increase.”
You can read more about our response to the ONS Stillbirth data here.