A worrying new report has highlighted the impact of poverty on families, with babies born to women living in the most deprived areas of the UK twice as likely to be stillborn.
The report was published by a combination of pregnancy and neonatal loss organisations, charities and hospitals under the name Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the UK (MBRRACE-UK).
It tracked perinatal deaths from 2019, and found that while the overall rate of neonatal mortality has fallen by 12% since 2015, rates remain staggeringly high for Asian and Black babies. Asian babies have a 60% increased risk of neonatal mortality compared to white babies, while Black and Black British Babies had a 43% increased risk compared to white babies.
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The report also highlighted that babies born to women living in the most deprived areas of the UK had a 73% higher risk of neonatal death compared to women living in the least deprived areas, and that this excess risk had increased between 2015 and 2019.
Just under half of all neonatal deaths in 2019 were of babies born extremely premature (before 28 weeks of pregnancy).
Bliss, a charity supporting parents with premature or sick babies, said the the fact babies were more likely to die depending on their ethnicity or where their parents lived was "shameful".
Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: â€œIt is deeply shocking that todayâ€™s report shows a continued higher risk of neonatal mortality among babies born in the most deprived areas, as well as among babies from certain ethnic minority groups â€“ and even more so that the difference in the risk of death between those living in the most deprived areas and those in the least has actually increased between 2015 and 2019. It is shameful that in the UK babies are more likely to die depending on their ethnicity or where their parents live, and it is vital that these ongoing health inequalities are addressed as a matter of urgency.
â€œWhile it is positive to see further reductions in the overall neonatal mortality rate, todayâ€™s report highlights how much more needs to be done if the National Ambition of halving neonatal deaths in England is to be achieved by 2025. Further research must be undertaken to develop interventions which work to reduce the neonatal death rate equitably â€“ and this must include working closely with families. Behind every statistic in this report is a baby who has died and a family who has endured this unimaginable loss, and our hearts go out to them."
The MBRRACE-UK findings followed another report from the National Perinatal Mortality Review Tool (NPMRT) which supports services across the UK to better understand how babies die, to provide answers to families and to share learning to reduce incidences of perinatal death over time.
The NPMRT found that of the 1,381 neonatal deaths reviewed using the NPMRT between March 2020 and February 2021, 16% were potentially preventable.
Caroline Lee-Davey added: â€œEach of the 1,381 neonatal deaths reviewed will have devastated a family, and it is hugely distressing that the proportion where different care may have resulted in a different outcome has increased compared to the past two years. This provides further urgency to the need for every hospital to take action to ensure learning is taken forward and drives genuine improvements in care.â€
Sarah McMullen, Director of Impact and Engagement, National Childbirth Trust, called the findings "completely unacceptable".
"This report demonstrates the deeply concerning impact of poverty on families, with babies born to women living in the most deprived areas of the UK twice as likely to be stillborn and at higher risk of neonatal death compared to those born in more affluent areas," she said.
"Alarmingly, this poverty gap is widening: while there has been a welcome reduction rate of 22% in stillbirths in the least deprived areas, it has fallen by only 8% in the most deprived areas.
"It is also completely unacceptable that, regardless of socio-economic status, rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths remain higher for babies born to Black, Black British, Asian and British Asian mothers than for White babies. We have welcomed the current confidential enquiry into deaths of Black and Black British babies and repeat our call for an urgent review of the losses to Asian and British Asian families too.
"Time and time again, reports demonstrate the persistent and shocking inequality in outcomes for women and babies. It is vital that focused initiatives are developed to reduce stillbirths and neonatal deaths for families at greatest risk."
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