More needs to be done to prevent stillbirth in the UK

Today saw the publication of the Lancet stillbirth series, which reviews the progress made around the world to reduce stillbirth. The UK is 24th out of 49 high income countries, with a stillbirth rate of 2.9 per 1000 births.

Today saw the publication of the Lancet stillbirth series, which reviews the progress made around the world to reduce stillbirth. The UK is 24th out of 49 high income countries, with a stillbirth rate of 2.9 per 1000 births. Countries such as Ireland, Estonia, Portugal and Netherlands are all doing better than us. Stillbirth figures could be halved in the UK if we performed as well as the best high income countries

There has been a drive in the UK to reduce stillbirth since the publication of the last report four years ago and there is every reason for cautious optimism, with the recent Department of Health pledge to make stillbirth reduction a target. Developments in diagnosis and treatments also being made.

In fact there is already evidence that stillbirth is starting to reduce in the UK, with the help of organisations such as Tommy’s who have dedicated resources and focus to stillbirth research. We are still the only organisation in the UK that funds a dedicated stillbirth research centre, at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester. 

However there is still room for considerable improvement.

  • Stillbirths would be halved in the UK if we performed as well as the best high income countries, saving more than 1,500 lives each year.
  • Socially disadvantaged groups are more than twice as likely to have a stillbirth as those that are better off.
  • Substandard care by clinical staff contributes to up to 30% of all stillbirths.
  • Bereavement care often does not meet the needs of parents with devastating long-term consequences for their wellbeing .
  • The costs of stillbirth are significant not only in health and economic terms but also the societal cost.

So what needs to happen now?

The NHS needs to urgently review how they can prevent these avoidable deaths and much work is being done by the NHS to identify improvements and implement better standards around the country

We need to identify optimal bereavement services and ensure these services are available to all bereaved parents – in our Manchester stillbirth research centre Tommy’s is pioneering services to help parents to cope with this devastating event through our Rainbow Clinic, whilst acknowledging the devastating loss they have suffered. These models of care should be available to women across the UK.

We need to invest in research that will better identify mums at risk and develop treatments that will help improve the health of their babies. Together with our two other centres in London and Edinburgh we are funding research which is aimed at improving the treatment of women at risk of stillbirth, as well as finding ways to predict who might be at risk. We are confident that research being done right now will continue to make a significant contribution to reducing stillbirth in the future.

The model that has been pioneered by the Tommy’s stillbirth centre in Manchester to improve the diagnosis and treatment of those at risk of stillbirth works. We have reduced stillbirth in the Manchester region by 22% in the last three years. 

We need to keep up the pressure – we need to keep reminding government, research funders and the NHS that this is an important issue for parents. If Britain truly wants to count itself amongst the best countries in the world we must match that ambition with much better outcomes for babies and their parents.

The rate of progress for neonatal deaths (death within 28 days of birth) in the UK is around three times faster than for stillbirth. This may be due to significant investment in care and research for babies once they are born; the researchers call for a similar investments in care and research before birth in order to identify risk and prevent stillbirth. We can, and we must, do better in the UK to prevent stillbirth.

Read more: The Lancet Stillbirth Series 2011:http://www.thelancet.com/series/stillbirth

  • The team at the Rainbow Clinic

    The Rainbow Clinic

    The Tommy's Rainbow Clinic is part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester. It provides specialist care for women who have suffered a previous stillbirth or neonatal death.

  • Diagram of baby and placenta in womb

    The Placenta Clinic

    The Placenta Clinic, run as part of the Tommy's Stillbirth Research Centre at St Mary's Hospital in Manchester, is the largest placenta-focused research group in the world.

  • researcher looking through microscope

    Tommy’s Manchester Research Centre

    Tommy’s research centre at St Mary’s Hospital opened in 2001 and is now home to around 100 clinicians and scientists researching the causes of stillbirth.

  • Team of researchers

    Research into stillbirth

    When a baby dies after 24 weeks of gestation, it is called a stillbirth. Around 2.6 million babies are stillborn each year. Tommy’s research is helping to change this.

Why our research is so important

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    "Each month that went by provided another disappointment that we had not managed the one thing we hoped for most."

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