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Avoidable baby deaths – even one is one too many

Around 15 babies born in the UK everyday die before, during or soon after birth according to the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity (Sands), a tragic fact for the families affected.

Whilst overall the number of babies who die after birth has been decreasing since the 1990s, the most recent study into infant deaths published by the Office of National Statistics found that the infant mortality rate in England and Wales increased in 2016.

The study found there were 3.8 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2016, compared to 3.7 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2015. The World Health Organisation notes that most neonatal deaths in 2016 were caused by prematurity, infections, birth defects and complications at the time of birth.

Whilst most of these causes are unavoidable, sadly the specialist medical negligence team at JMW often see cases where failings in clinical care have led to an avoidable neonatal death. Complications at the time of birth, such as the baby suffering a lack of oxygen, can often be managed by staff following guidelines and having resources available, to avoid babies suffering life threatening injury.

One case I am currently dealing with involves parents who lost their newborn son because a midwife failed to call for assistance when there were signs that the baby was in distress on the heart rate monitor. His death was completely avoidable if the midwife had followed standard protocol which would have enabled doctors to take steps to deliver him safely.

Following the events, the trust carried out an investigation and recommended action to improve the standards of CTG monitoring at the hospital. Whilst we hope these steps will prevent the same mistakes occurring in the future it is obviously too late for the family affected.

Mistakes such as this are not only shocking they also lead to the most tragic of outcomes that can completely devastate lives. Even one avoidable baby death is one too many so it is absolutely crucial that maternity units prioritise addressing the issues that lead to babies dying.

Thankfully organisations such as Sands and Tommy’s have raised much needed awareness of what is often seen as a taboo topic. Another incredible organisation; Baby Lifeline Training provides life-saving information and techniques to midwives and other medical professionals to enable them to deal with emergency situations. However with thousands of maternity workers nationwide it is incumbent on hospital trusts to ensure their staff are adequately trained and monitored.

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