NHS action saves 3,000 more babies’ lives

The NHS in England is saving hundreds more babies’ lives every year than a decade ago, with thousands more to be saved thanks to the Long Term Plan and ongoing action to make services safer.

Professor Jaqueline Dunkley-Bent, the first-ever NHS chief midwifery officer, has praised improvements to local maternity services which saw a reduction of the stillbirth rate by more than a fifth (21%) between 2010 and 2018 – meaning 2,900 fewer stillbirths.

Analysis published today in an update on progress made in the four years since Better Births, the report from the National Maternity Review, showed that the number of stillbirths was 669 lower in 2018 than it was in 2010.

This means that, even without further improvements, the combined number of additional babies born including 2019 is likely to exceed 3,500.

The extra lives saved between 2010 and 2018 means that the NHS met its own ambitious 20% target two years ahead of the 2020 deadline.

Speaking at the inaugural Chief Midwifery Officer’s Summit in Manchester today, Professor Dunkley-Bent will say that this puts the NHS in a strong position to meet the next milestone of a 50% reduction by 2025.

Based on ONS projections of future birth rates, this would mean over 7,000 further stillbirths prevented between 2019 and 2025.

While more babies surviving to birth who may not have done in the past can lead to an increase in neonatal mortality, importantly on a combined measure progress is still on track, reducing by 15.1% between 2010 and 2018 – meaning 3,926 more babies surviving beyond their first month.

Professor Dunkley-Bent said: “These are not just numbers on a page; every single one represents a son or daughter, a sister or brother, a niece or nephew, a grandson or granddaughter – a new member of a family surviving.

“That’s what midwives and maternity teams deliver, day in and day out.

“But what these numbers also tell us, is a story of how the NHS has made great strides to implement better births over the last decade, and particularly in the four years since that report was published.

“As we work to deliver our Long Term Plan and accelerate improvements in care for expectant women, this progress provides encouragement that we can meet our ambition to make England the best place in the world to give birth, and to save thousands more lives. And that’s why there is no room for complacency.”

Patient Safety Minister, Nadine Dorries said: “The reduction in stillbirths is testament to the hard work and dedication of midwifery teams up and down the country, meaning more women and babies are getting the support they need to enjoy healthy pregnancies, births and postnatal experiences.

“It’s very positive that we’ve already surpassed one of our key Long Term Plan milestones, but we know there is more to do to improve outcomes nationally and drive forward our ambition of making the NHS the safest place in the world to give birth.”

The progress is charted in a new report published today summarising progress made four years on from the landmark Better Births report from the National Maternity Review.

Dr Matthew Jolly, NHS national clinical director for maternity and women’s health, said: “This significant progress is testament to the dedication and skill of maternity staff across the country who have embraced the challenge of delivering Better Births and improved their services in line with both best clinical practice and what women say they want. But we can and will go even further, including levelling up services in every part of the country, delivering continuity of care for those who benefit most and tackling health inequalities.”

The update also outlines how, at the same time as improving outcomes, the latest maternity experience survey by the Care Quality Commission shows continued improvement in how women feel about the care they received.

In the latest survey of 17,000 women, more than seven in eight (88%) said they were given appropriate advice and support at the start of their labour and more than five in six (84%) said that staff took them seriously if they raised a concern during labour or birth both showing consistent improvement since 2013.

On improving experience, Professor Dunkley-Bent said: “We know that services that are responsive to women’s needs, and to the concerns families raise at any stage in their journey, deliver safer care and better outcomes.

“Thankfully that’s what the vast majority of women say they get, but still too many don’t, and we have much to do to ensure equity in health outcomes and experiences for BAME women.

“And the harrowing testimony we have heard over the last year concerning East Kent and Shrewsbury and Telford shows what can happen in the most extreme cases.

“We must learn the lessons that will come out of the anguish experienced by those families.

“Because women want the best possible pregnancy, birth and postnatal outcomes and experiences for them, and that means our mission – my mission – is that every woman should receive safer and more personal care  and feel that the professionals involved in their care have listened to them.”

As part of the NHS Long Term Plan, 44 Local Maternity Systems across the country are bringing together local health organisations, clinicians and families to make sure maternity services meet the needs of their communities, and therefore deliver continued improvements in outcomes.

Maternity services are increasingly becoming more personalised and responsive to women’s needs, meaning that:

  • 130,000 women had access to their digital maternity record by December 2019, transforming how they access and own their information and how services can join up around them. This is ahead of target for the planned rollout to every woman by 2023/24.
  • 10,000 women were booked on a continuity of carer pathway in March 2019 – with thousands more set to benefit from seeing a midwife they know before, during and after birth.
  • 100 new community hubs were opened by December 2019, bringing a range of antenatal, postnatal and sometimes intrapartum care services together in one setting, closer to women’s homes.
  • There is now a specialist perinatal mental health community team operating in every local system across England, with 700 new specialist staff recruited between 2017 and 2019, enabling over 13,000 more women to be seen in 2018/19.

Four new mother and baby units, for those experiencing the most intense perinatal mental health problems, have opened in the areas of England most in need, with the number of beds in existing facilities also increasing.