This issue unfortunately affects many people, and I offer my sympathy to those who have suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, or the loss of a child. I applaud my colleagues who have recounted this painful experience in their lives in Parliament to raise awareness of baby loss and inspire changes in policy.
Unfortunately, I am unable to attend the general debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week due to a prior constituency commitment, but I will look closely at what is said when the Hansard is published. I have a number of friends who have lost their babies and so appreciate how devastating this is.
The UK is one of the safest places in the world to give birth. However, I know that the Government recognises that there is still more to be done. The Department of Health and Social Care has set out a range of measures to deliver its ambition to halve the rates of stillbirths, neonatal deaths and brain injuries that occur during or soon after labour, and maternal deaths by 2025 relative to levels in 2010.
Since 2010, the stillbirth rate has reduced 19.3 per cent, the neonatal mortality rate for babies born over the 24-week gestational age of viability has reduced by 36 per cent, and the proportion of babies born preterm has reduced from 8 per cent in 2017 to 7.7 per cent in 2021. Where progress to reduce adverse outcomes has been slower, the Government has introduced several targeted interventions, such as the Saving Babies Lives Care Bundle and the Brain Injury Reduction Programme.
Since 2016, the Government has provided more than £250,000 to SANDs, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, to work with other baby loss charities and royal colleges to produce and support the rollout of a National Bereavement Care Pathway to reduce the variation in the quality of bereavement care provided by the NHS.
I welcomed the publication of the Women's Health Strategy in July 2022 that made several commitments related to baby loss and maternity care. This included a pledge to introduce a pregnancy loss certificate in England as recommended by the interim update of the independent Pregnancy Loss Review. The Government has announced that a new Certificate of Pregnancy Loss will be available for bereaved parents to apply for from October this year.
The Government is focused on ensuring that bereaved parents feel able to navigate the complexities of the healthcare system and will put an emphasis on supporting them through their grief, recognising their loss, acknowledging their pain and ensuring they feel heard.
Furthermore, the final report of the Independent Pregnancy Loss Review, ‘Care and Support when baby loss occurs before 24 weeks gestation’ was published in July. The report makes 72 recommendations for improving the quality and experience of care for miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, molar pregnancy and terminations of pregnancy for medical reasons. Alongside this, the Government has published its response which outlines the immediate steps being taken to improve care for pregnancy loss.
Recurring miscarriage and pregnancy loss can also have a devastating impact. To ensure as few women as possible have to experience this heart-rending pain more than once, the charity Tommy’s National Centre for Miscarriage Research at Birmingham Women and Children’s Hospital has launched a three-month pilot exploring a ‘graded model’ of miscarriage care. Women will receive testing and advice following a first, second or third miscarriage, so they can identify any medical conditions they may have, help prevent further loss, and inform other women. The Government will evaluate the outcomes of the pilot at the end of this year.
I thank the APPG on Baby Loss and charities such as Sands for their work to raise awareness in Parliament about the impact of pregnancy or baby loss on thousands of parents every year.
I firmly agree that all parents who experience pregnancy and baby loss and would like specialist psychological support should be able to access it. I can assure you that the Government is committed to expanding and transforming mental health services in England so that people, including those affected by the loss of a baby, get the help and support they need.
The NHS Long Term Plan seeks to increase mental health support funding by £2.3 billion per year by 2023/24. As part of this I know that care provided by specialist perinatal mental health services will be available from preconception to 24 months after birth.
NHS England has published an equity and equality strategy, supported by a £6.8 million investment, to address the causes of inequalities in health outcomes, experience and access. It provides guidance for local maternity systems and focuses on black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, who currently experience poor maternal health outcomes. This is a vital step towards tackling such an important issue and I am encouraged by the Government’s focus on it.
Moreover, a Maternity Disparities Taskforce was established in February 2022 to explore the reasons for disparities in maternity care and address poor outcomes for women from ethnic minority communities and those living in deprived areas. This is supported by the Women's Health Strategy which was published in July 2022 which committed to make the NHS the best place in the world to give birth through personalised, individualised, and high-quality care.
I share the concern about the high mortality rates for babies of Asian and Asian British ethnicity. Research has suggested that stillbirth and neonatal mortality rates are both around 60 per cent higher than for babies of White ethnicity.
I know that the Government is committed to tackling these inequalities and working to better understand the reasons behind stillbirth and neonatal mortality. In March 2023, NHS England published its three-year delivery plan for maternity and neonatal services. The plan outlines an ambition to reduce inequalities for all in access, experience and outcomes and provide targeted support where health inequalities exist.
The organisation Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries across the United Kingdom (MBRRACE-UK) conduct surveillance of all late losses, stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and produce Confidential Enquiries to provide valuable learning and inform service improvement.
MBRRACE-UK has reviewed the quality of care provided for mothers and babies of Black and Black British ethnicity to identify areas where care could be improved, and this focus on improving inequalities is welcome. I hope to see this work expanded in future.