The government funded plan, “Each Baby Counts” will specifically aim to halve the number of preventable still births and cases of brain damage. Many of these have been linked to under staffed and overstretched maternity units together with poor quality care.
The first stage of the project will be to build a sophisticated data base of all still births and brain damage occurring during labour. This information will be analysed and the results used to develop national strategies to prevent future tragedies occurring.
The last comprehensive comparative study, a 2011 report carried out by the Lancet, put the UK well down the league table of 193 nations, including some of the world’s poorest countries, on a par with Belarus and Estonia.
It came 33rd of out the 35 high-income countries, with only New Zealand, Austria and France having higher stillbirth rates.
The UK’s record, of 3.5 still births per 1000 births based on the Lancet criteria, put it and well behind the best performer Finland at just two per 1,000 births, the audit revealed.
Although the numbers have improved marginally since then, there are still just over 3000 still births per year in England and Wales.
Preliminary research carried out by the Royal College as part of “Each Baby Counts” shows avoidable deaths account for up to 600 babies a year with hundreds of others brain damaged or suffering serious health problems.
He added: “It is also scandalous how far funding for pregnancy research is so far behind cancer care and heart disease. There is a misunderstanding pregnancy is all rosy therefore not deserving of investment but actually there is a huge death toll which is vastly under reported.”
He said the subject of stillbirth was “taboo” with occasional high profile cases such as that of Lilly Allen’s stillbirth in 2010 after she developed a viral infection rarely throwing the subject into the spotlight.
He also pointed to the fact that currently 1 in 200 babies is still born – dying at 24 weeks gestation or over.
He added: “We talk of so many things around the dangers of birth and infancy such as foetal abnormalities, downs, and cot deaths; however we rarely talk to parents about the risk of still births. But the impact on a parent is devastating and lifelong. It is the same as losing a child at any age.”
Professor Alan Cameron, Vice President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “There are tragedies across the spectrum of where women are delivered. On top of this is the massive disease burden from babies born with brain damage. We want to make an impact on the tremendous cost to the lives of those affected and the financial burden of litigation.”
Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, want to see more effective monitoring of pregnancies to pick up babies that are not developing well so they can be delivered early if necessary.
The grief is overwhelming when you lose a baby and knowing that she will never have a chance at life
A proportion of stillbirths are to women who are either overweight, smoke or are older than average, well-known risk factors in pregnancy, and yet, Mrs Bevan, whose one daughter Hope died shortly after birth in 2001, says the possibility of stillbirth is not always raised.
The charity is calling for a thorough review of the care given to pregnant mothers after every baby death after 22 weeks to avoid future tragedies.
Avoidable problems in labour that can arise and lead to still births are failure to notice or respond to a decelerating heart rate, delays in intervention when there life threatening problems occur, failure to call on more expertise when serious problems arise, inadequate staffing on maternity wards, failure to detect warning signs near to birth and not identifying at-risk mothers to be.
Emma Johnston, 41, from Poole, Dorset, lost her first baby, Daisy, in February 2011 who was delivered at 41 weeks. Emma became pregnant naturally after she and her partner had failed to conceive for four years.
Midwives picked up no problems with the pregnancy and Emma was considered low risk. As a result she decided to have a home birth, but a few hours into labour her midwife discovered her baby had lost her heart beat.
“Our world fell apart,” recalled Emma, a former PR consultant. The couple was taken to Poole hospital where Daisy was delivered over seven hours later as a still born.
A post mortem examination showed Emma’s placenta had malfunctioned in the late stages of her pregnancy meaning Daisy was not properly nourished.
Emma, who now has two-year-old Ned, believes her life may have been saved if this had been identified and Daisy had been delivered earlier.
She said: “No one is necessarily low risk. If I had been scanned it might have saved Daisy’s life. I don’t want any family to go through what we went through.
“It was horrific to have your hopes and dreams snatched away. The grief is overwhelming when you lose a baby and knowing that she will never have a chance at life.”