Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:47 pm on 9th October 2018.

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Photo of Dr Caroline Johnson Dr Caroline Johnson Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 7:47 pm, 9th October 2018

I congratulate the hospital in Worthing for its outstanding success. My hon. Friend is right that there is a balance to be struck between the centralisation of care for babies who require very low-volume but high-specialist care, and the need for care to be delivered as close as is reasonably practical to the individual family concerned. That is true of all medical specialties, really. In the case of neonates, we probably have the balance roughly right, but a trend may be starting whereby people ask for things to be centralised that in my perception do not really need to be centralised. As a professional, I often see babies who are not returned to the step-down care as quickly as they could be. Babies are sometimes kept in the tertiary centres for longer than is absolutely necessary. There are complex reasons for that, but I would be grateful if the Minister looked into the issue so that babies can be returned closer to home as soon as possible.

I welcome the Government’s ambitious aims to halve the rate of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025. That will be possible only by reducing the number of pre-term deliveries, which are the leading cause of neonatal death in the UK. The Department of Health and Social Care’s goal of reducing pre-term birth from 8% to 6% will require a lot more research and intervention. We have a healthier population of women, but the number of pre-term babies continues to increase. More funding is needed for pregnancy research, and particularly for research into the causes of pre-eclampsia, cervical length and infections such as group B strep, as well as for the identification of small babies with early scanning. There must also be more work to discourage smoking, which we already know is an established risk factor for pre-term delivery. I welcome the previous Secretary of State’s saying in November 2017 that the Government will reduce smoking during pregnancy from 10.6% to 6% and raise awareness of foetal movement. All those things will contribute towards the reduction of the number of neonatal deaths and stillbirths. Through that work, the Government are best placed to meet their “halve it” aim, and in doing so save 4,000 lives.

Finally, I wish to discuss those babies who die in the post-neonatal period—that is, under the age of one but after 28 days of life. Currently, 1.1 in every 1,000 babies die in the post-neonatal period. The major reason is babies having congenital malformations, and the second most common reason is sudden infant death, the rate of which has recently increased, although the cause is not clear. What is the Minister doing to identify the reasons for the recent increase in sudden infant deaths? What is being done to prevent the number of sudden infant deaths from rising further and, indeed, to bring it down?