Sir George attended a special parliamentary reception to launch the "Why 17?" campaign, which asks the question, ‘Why do 17 babies die every single day in the UK?’
Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, held the reception at the House of Commons on 4th March 2009, to raise awareness of the fact that every hour and half in the UK a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth. That’s 17 babies every day. There are strong indications that significant numbers of these 17 deaths could be avoided and babies’ lives saved.
At the event, Sir George was presented with Sands’ new report, Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009 which, backed up by new research, highlights several problem areas that are contributing to this level of baby loss, the long-lasting impact of these deaths, and recommends changes that could save babies’ lives.
Sir George pictured at Wednesday’s event pledged his support for the Sands campaign, saying “I was shocked to discover that there are 6,500 stillbirth and neonatal deaths every year in the UK, and that many families in my local constituency will have experienced the tragic loss of a baby in this way. The new Saving Babies’ Lives Report clearly outlines the key issues, problem areas and recommendations for change, and I am fully committed to supporting Sands in their call for action now to make a difference so more lives can be saved in the future.’
Sir George said he was very moved by the talk given at the Reception by a father who lost his son in the 1990's, and had resolved to campaign for better services to save others going through what he and his wife went through.
"I asked some of the parents at the reception what was the one thing they would like to change - and they said more midwives. That was the message I took away."
The facts today, as provided by Sands
· 17 babies die every day in the UK (10 are stillbirths, 7 are neonatal deaths) totalling almost 6,500 baby deaths a year - the equivalent of 16 jumbo jets crashing every year.
· This is four times the number of people who die every year of MRSA (1,593 MRSA deaths in 2007, UK Statistics Authority).
· This is double the number of adults who lose their lives on Britain’s roads every year (2007 – 2,940 people were killed on the roads, Department of Transport).
· Ten times more babies are stillborn than die of cot death every year in the UK.
· The stillbirth rate has remained almost unchanged for the past 10 years. (CEMACH)
A: Problems contributing to baby deaths:
Under-resourced maternity and neonatal services:
· Maternity services in the UK are under considerable strain from lack of resources and funding and there is strong evidence to suggest that this is contributing to baby deaths. (The last official enquiry by CESDI, Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy, found that nearly half of all unexplained stillbirths, might have been avoided with better antenatal care.)
· New evidence from a Sands survey of 270 bereaved parents found that almost half of parents (48%) did not feel that everything possible was done to save their baby’s life, they felt rushed through their antenatal appointments (36%) and not completely confident about the way in which they were cared for in the lead up to their baby’s death (49%).
· There is a severe shortage of neonatal nurses, with 1,700 posts needing to be filled and only 14 out of 50 intensive care units in the UK providing minimum standards of one-to-one care for sick and premature babies.
Serious shortage of funding for research to understand and prevent stillbirths:
· Half of all stillborn babies die for no apparent reason - like a ‘cot death in the womb’. The cause of these deaths is very poorly understood because research work is not being funded.
· There is potential to detect the babies that are at risk of stillbirth, and deliver them early. But if work like this is to succeed we need funding for further research and trials of interventions.
· There are pockets of excellent research work but much higher levels of funding are needed to enable researchers to do the work they believe could have a real impact on reducing deaths.
Lack of understanding and awareness among both prospective parents and healthcare professionals of the extent and risk of stillbirth and neonatal death:
Sands’ new consumer survey of UK adults revealed that awareness of the level of stillbirth is low, with 75% being very surprised that the rate of stillbirth was as high as 300 babies dying every month.
The survey also revealed that mums-to-be are not being made aware of the risks of stillbirth with 42% of mothers questioned not receiving any information on stillbirth from their midwife.
Failure of current antenatal screening techniques to identify ‘at-risk’ babies;
50% of all stillbirths are of babies who die for apparently no reason, the majority in ‘low-risk’ pregnancies.
B: Impact of baby deaths - Sands Parents’ survey shows the:
· Emotional impact on parents - 81% suffered depression and reduced confidence as a result of their loss, a third said the loss of their baby had affected their marriage/relationship.
· Financial impact on parents - 48% said the death of their baby resulted in them or their partner being less effective at work, which had a negative impact on their career; with a quarter losing earnings as they had to change their job/career.
· Cost to health and social services - 35% of parents needed extra support from health care services to help with the emotional impact of their baby’s loss; a third having to take extended sick leave.
C: Sands’ recommendations for change: (as outlined in Sands’ Saving Babies’ Lives Report 2009, being presented to Parliament today, 4 March)
· Increased awareness of how many stillbirths and neonatal deaths there are in the UK.
· Recognition at the highest levels that these baby deaths are a national problem.
· Collaboration with other interested parties to create a national strategy to reduce the number of stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the UK and to specifically look at the following:
o Properly valuing each and every baby’s life.
o Changing antenatal care by developing a culture of continual risk assessment within maternity service provision in order to identify higher risk pregnancies.
o Recruiting and training more midwives to ensure the highest levels of care.
o Better overall resourcing of maternity services to provide a truly 24 hour, 7 days a week level of service and care.
o More funding for research. Sands believes that £6 million over the next 5 years could significantly reduce the number of babies dying.
Neal Long, Chief Executive, Sands: “For too long these deaths have been ignored and yet here is compelling evidence to suggest that many babies’ lives could be saved with better antenatal care, increased funding for maternity services, more midwives and increased funding for research. We want to see action now to save babies’ lives.”
“The devastation my family and I felt when our daughter Grace was stillborn was indescribable”, says actor and playwright, David Haig, a Patron of Sands “No parent whose baby has died wants any other parent to suffer in this way, which is why I, as Grace’s Dad am urging politicians and key decision makers to sit up, and take note of all the thousands of parents devastated by their babies’ deaths. We need a co-ordinated, national strategy to tackle stillbirths and neonatal deaths and we need it now.”