Major failings in the care of pregnant women and their babies are resulting in stillbirths that could have been avoided, according to a damning report.
Almost half of women studied who suffered a stillbirth sought help from midwives and doctors because their baby’s movements had slowed down but some were turned away, the expert inquiry found.
In other cases, the baby’s heart rate was monitored but the readings were misinterpreted by staff. Experts also found a failure across the board to follow national guidelines on checking the growth of babies during pregnancy.
Women at higher risk of stillbirth – such as those at risk of diabetes – were also not checked properly or closely monitored.
The report found that half of stillborn babies who made it to term and who were normally formed had at least one element of care requiring improvement which may have made a difference to the outcome.
The charity Sands said the findings show that around 500 babies in 2013 had a major issue in the care leading up to the stillbirth where better care may have prevented the death.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said six out of ten stillbirths of full-term babies that are fully formed are potentially avoidable.
Almost one in every 200 babies is stillborn in the UK. The UK still lags behind much of the developed world when it comes to stillbirth.
In 2013, the UK had one of the highest rates of stillbirth in Europe (4.7 per 1,000 total births).
The new report, from a team of academics, clinicians and charity representatives called MBRRACE-UK, found “critical gaps” in the care of pregnant women and “missed opportunities” to prevent stillbirth, with some of the same problems as 15 years ago.
More than 1,000 stillbirths of single babies occur every year in the UK when the pregnancy has reached full-term and the baby has no congenital abnormality.
The team, led by experts from the University of Leicester, carefully reviewed 133 such cases from 2013. They found that national guidance for screening and monitoring growth of the baby was not followed for two-thirds of cases. The growth of the baby should be plotted on a graph and shown to the woman at antenatal appointments.