Reducing Baby Loss — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:36 am on 20th July 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 9:36 am, 20th July 2021

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mr Gray. I congratulate Cherilyn Mackrory on securing this timely and important debate, and on continuing to campaign on these issues. Her bravery in sharing her story is inspiring, and the work of the APPG should be commended. I agree with all her final points wholeheartedly. I was contacted by a number of constituents before today’s debate, and hundreds of people over the past year have shared harrowing stories of their own experiences of baby loss and miscarriage. I would like to thank all those who are campaigning for change.

The overwhelming feeling from all of those I have spoken to is that baby loss, like many other women’s health issues, still does not receive the attention, research or funding it deserves and so desperately needs. As a result, not nearly enough progress is being made. As the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth mentioned, every day in the UK, around 14 babies die before, during or soon after birth. An estimated one in four pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. These statistics are difficult to read, but what is much, much worse is the fact that many of these deaths are preventable. According to the recent report by the Health and Social Care Committee, 1,000 more babies a year would survive in England’s maternity services if those services were as safe Sweden’s.

While it is good to hear about improvements that have been made, my constituents and those who have experienced baby loss or miscarriage are more concerned about what more needs to be done to reduce the numbers experiencing loss, especially when the Committee’s report has shown that we are far from meeting our 2025 ambitions. Services are seriously overstretched, underfunded and understaffed, and huge health inequalities in perinatal outcomes remain unaddressed. If we are to buck this trend, the Government need to take the opportunity to reset and refocus perinatal services across England on meaningful and long-lasting transformation.

To begin this transformation and to ensure it results in meaningful change for all women, we need immediately to introduce enhanced data collection and sharing of all adverse perinatal outcomes. During my Adjournment debate earlier this year on the findings of The Lancet series, “Miscarriage matters”, the Minister committed to include the report’s recommendation to record every miscarriage in England in the Government’s women’s health strategy. This is a huge win for campaigners and a really welcome step, which I hope will come to fruition very soon.

However, we must ensure that there is consistent data collection on all adverse perinatal outcomes, including brain injury, and on loss during pregnancy before 24 weeks’ gestation. We must also ensure that all perinatal deaths are recorded within a 24-hour period, rather than the seven-day period that we currently have, to allow for more accurate and timely data collection.

Finally, and most importantly, we must ensure that data are consistently collected on ethnicity and social factors in pregnancy and the post-natal period, so that we can identify groups whose outcomes are worse than the average and set more robust targets. We know from the available data that stillbirth rates for black and black British babies are twice as high than those for white babies, and that the rates for Asian and Asian British babies are 1.6 times higher than those for white babies. Stillbirth rates for babies from the most deprived families are 1.7 times higher than those for the least deprived.

It is deeply upsetting that we still have no evidence-based interventions to reduce the risks that black, Asian and socioeconomically disadvantaged women face. I think we can all agree that we need a strategy in place to end the disparity in maternal and neonatal outcomes, but without available data on specific targets, we do not stand a hope of reducing the inequalities. Consistent data must be recorded and made accessible, so that collectively we can sound the alarm and set specific, tailored targets and strategies for meeting them. Although I welcome the forthcoming confidential inquiry into the deaths of black and black British babies, I am disappointed that Ministers feel unable to fund a similar inquiry into the deaths of Asian and Asian British babies, and I call on the Minister to look at that again.

For too long, baby loss has not received the focus it deserves, and it is dismissed all too often as an inevitability. Only by properly tracking baby loss will we be able to break the taboo, properly address the inequalities in health outcomes, and ensure that we have a foolproof strategy to reach our 2025 ambitions and improve outcomes. For those going through baby loss or still living with the trauma of prior experiences, progress cannot come soon enough.