Midwives have welcomed a new five-year project that aims to halve the number of baby deaths and brain injuries that happen during labour.
Current estimates suggest around 500 babies a year die or are left severely disabled because something goes wrong during birth. However, experts believe some of these tragedies are avoidable.
The Every Baby Counts scheme, launched by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists today, will start by collecting and analysing data from all UK maternity units.
“Because the lessons learned from these local reviews are not being shared, opportunities to improve care at a national level are being missed”
The scheme, which is part funded by the Department of Health, will go on to make a series of recommendations designed to improve care.
“Most pregnant women receive exemplary care during labour in our NHS hospitals, but tragically some babies die or are left severely brain-damaged,” said Professor Zarko Alfirevic, co-principal investigator for the project.
“Currently when these events occur they are investigated locally. However, because the lessons learned from these local reviews are not being shared, opportunities to improve care at a national level are being missed,” he said.
“This is one of the most ambitious and exciting projects in women’s health in the UK. Our goal poses a significant challenge but we are confidence we will achieve it,” he added.
A spokeswoman for the RCOG stressed the aim was to halve the number of labour-related stillbirths, early neonatal deaths and brain injuries among babies who have reached full term – so the target does not include babies born prematurely.
The Royal College of Midwives said it was fully behind the initiative. “It is vital we learn the lessons from these tragic events,” said RCM director for England Jacque Gerard.
“We must also ensure that what we learn is shared and any actions implemented across the country,” she added.
The project was also welcomed by the stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, which said standards of care currently varied considerably across the country.
“It’s time to ensure that every mother receives the best quality care available and avoidable deaths are prevented,” said Sands chief executive Neal Long.
The success of future action plans that result from the project will be assessed by monitoring trends and geographic distribution of deaths and severe brain injuries in the future.