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Stop smoking support to be ramped up in maternity services

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Specialist stop smoking support will now be offered to all pregnant women as part of an NHS England drive to reduce stillbirths.

The new smoking cessation measures are being introduced as part of the country-wide rollout of the Saving Babies’ Lives toolkit.

Under the scheme, all pregnant women will also be given the opportunity to take a carbon monoxide test to see whether they have been consuming smoke. 

“Reducing smoking in pregnancy is one of the key things that has to be done to reduce the UK’s stillbirth rate”

Clare Livingstone

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens said: “No parent should have to endure the heartbreak of stillbirth, and NHS action, delivered through the skill and professionalism of our midwives, nurses and doctors – means an even greater number of parents and babies experience a healthy birth.

“The NHS Long Term Plan set out a clear and ambitious plan to improve England’s maternity services, which alongside even more expectant mums taking action themselves by stopping smoking, will make having a baby as safe as possible,” he said. 

The Saving Babies’ Lives scheme was initially introduced in 2015 to support the ambition to halve the number of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths in England by 2025.

The NHS Long Term Plan, released in January, confirmed that the toolkit would be rolled out to all maternity services across England by July 2019, as previously reported by Nursing Times.

The extra package of support will see all pregnant women offered an electronic carbon monoxide test at their antenatal appointments.

In addition, any woman referred for specialist advice to quit will get it and any expectant mother who smokes or has recently quit will be offered specialist support throughout pregnancy, including as late as 36 weeks into the baby’s development.

Health secretary and social care secretary Matt Hancock described the toolkit launch as a “vital part” the government’s commitment to halve stillbirths, infant deaths and serious brain injuries in new-borns.

“The number of women smoking in pregnancy is at a record low – but too many women still suffer the tragedy of a stillbirth as a result of smoking,” he said.

According to NHS England, introduction of the scheme across maternity services will mean that midwives will be better equipped to spot the warning signs that are linked to stillbirth.

“Too many women still suffer the tragedy of a stillbirth as a result of smoking”

Matt Hancock

In areas trialling the Saving Babies’ Lives package over the past year, there was a 59% increase in detection of growth problems, putting doctors and midwives in a better position to protect an at-risk baby.

As well as the expert toolkit for healthcare workers, NHS England has committed to ensuring most women during pregnancy get seen by the same midwife and team, which it said made women 16% less likely to lose their baby.

Clare Livingstone, professional policy advisor at the Royal College of Midwives, said: “The RCM welcomes commitments in the NHS Long Term Plan to fund smoking cessation services to support women to stop smoking during pregnancy.

“Reducing smoking in pregnancy is one of the key things that has to be done to reduce the UK’s stillbirth rate, but this cannot be achieved successfully without significant investment in specialist services,” she said.

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