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28 November 2012

UK: Stillbirth rates criticised

A quarter of stillbirths could be avoided each year if the NHS had a clearer prevention strategy, an investigation by the Times (London) claims.

One in every 200 babies is stillborn but hundreds are dying needlessly every year because hospitals are failing to take the problem seriously, according to The Times.

Most hospitals do not have any plans in place to reduce stillbirth rates and often women are not told about the warning signs that their baby is developing abnormally.

Out of 144 hospital trusts in England that run maternity units, only six said they had specific plans in place to reduce stillbirth rates.

The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said it “does not have any in place and is not required to do so.”

The NHS was also found to rely on tape measures to measure babies’ growth in the womb. Campaigners criticised the method as “highly fallible” and “extraordinary” in the 21st century. Babies who do not grow normally in the womb are 10 times more likely to be stillborn.

Janet Scott, of Sands (the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) said: “The majority of stillbirths happen in so-called low-risk pregnancies.

“Yet in the final third of a low-risk pregnancy the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence advises monitoring the baby’s well-being with a tape measure, a highly fallible method, and nothing else.

“It’s extraordinary that in the 21st century that’s all we offer mums.”

It was found that only a quarter of hospital trusts have a policy of using growth charts which have been recommended by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists for ten years. The charts plot the results of antenatal appointments and can help identify babies that are struggling to grow.

Hospitals are also failing to record stillborn deaths accurately. The precise number of deaths since 2009 is not known because of patchy data.

Quarter of stillbirths could be avoided. Daily Telegraph, 27 November 2012