Worrying increase in maternal deaths as care quality falls 

The Government is failing in its aim to halve the number of mothers who die during or shortly after birth, a deeply concerning new report on maternal health and safety has found. 

Published today, MBRRACE-UK’s Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care report shows that across 2018-2020 the number of women who died during or up to 6 weeks after the end of pregnancy is 24% higher than 2017-19.   

Even when women who died from Covid-19 are excluded, there has still been a 19% increase.  

229 women died along with 27 of their babies. A further 289 women died between 6 weeks and a year after the end of pregnancy in 2018-20. Only 22% of women who died received “good” care, the report shows.  

Tommy’s Chief Executive, Kath Abrahams, says:

“We are horrified to hear that maternal deaths have increased, leaving 366 motherless children. These figures indicate that the Government’s commitment to halving the number of maternal deaths by 2025 is not on track. In fact, the situation is getting worse, and this is unacceptable. Every single pregnant woman and their family should expect good, safe care at the absolute minimum.”  

In 2020, women were 3x more likely to die by suicide during or up to 6 weeks after the end of pregnancy compared to 2017-19.   

This statistic shows a critical gap in care for those experiencing mental health issues during or after pregnancy. Despite Government pledges to increase funding for perinatal mental health support, women and pregnant people are increasingly unable to access the mental health care they need.   

The number of women dying from deprived areas has also continued to increase, with those from the most deprived parts of the country now 2.5x more likely to die than those from the least deprived. Black women were 3.7x more likely to die and Asian women 1.8x more likely to die than White women. Who you are and where you live should not make the difference as to whether you, or your baby, lives or dies.   

Despite advances in pre-eclampsia testing and diagnosis made in recent years, today’s report shows that 4 times as many women in the UK are dying from pre-eclampsia than in 2012-14. We know that with careful monitoring and management many of those deaths would have been avoidable.  

Prof Andrew Shennan, Chair of Action On Pre-Eclampsia and Head of Tommy’s Preterm Birth Surveillance Unit, said:

“Pre-eclampsia is a pregnancy condition affecting 1 in 20 women, characterised by high blood pressure and can be life threatening to mother and baby.  

“The UK death rate is much lower than other countries but this four-fold rise in deaths, from 2 mothers dying to 8 in a decade is exceptionally worrying and should not be happening.  

“This is a disturbing trend, particularly as the vast majority of these deaths are avoidable. We must learn from this and act now.”  

Alongside worsening maternal safety, earlier this year the Office for National Statistics confirmed that for the first time in 7 years, stillbirth rates in England and Wales have increased. Neonatal deaths in Scotland have also increased, National Records of Scotland data shows.  

Kath Abrahams says:

“Tommy’s is demanding that the Government urgently reviews its approach to maternity safety across the UK.  

“MBRRACE-UK’s report shows that quality of care given to pregnant women and people in the UK is not improving. The results of a shortage of midwives and nurses and overstretched maternity services within an overstretched NHS are clear: more women and more babies are dying.   

“If nothing is done, all signs point toward the situation being even worse this year – more families going home without their child and more children growing up without a mother. Today’s report shows a very clear link between poor care and tragic outcomes. This cannot continue.”