Hospitals are missing key opportunities to save the lives of hundreds of babies in the UK, an investigation into stillbirths has found.
The report looked at 85 stillbirths in detail and found care could have been better in at least two-thirds of cases.
In some cases, mothers were not offered the right tests, despite concerns their babies had stopped moving.
Experts said it was disappointing the areas of concern remained the same as those in a similar report 15 years ago.
‘Not taken seriously’
There are more than 3,600 stillbirths every year in the UK – and despite improvements over the past few years, the rate remains one of the highest across Europe.
The inquiry, led by the University of Leicester, focused on stillbirths that happened at full term and had no congenital abnormalities. These make up about a third of all cases.
In almost half of the cases, women had contacted their maternity units concerned their babies’ movements had slowed, changed or stopped. But in 50% of these instances, there had been “missed opportunities to potentially save the baby”.
For example, investigations had not always been offered when appropriate, or when babies’ heart rates had been monitored, traces had sometimes been misinterpreted by staff.
Many women at a higher risk of stillbirth – such as those at risk of diabetes – had not been checked properly or closely monitored.
And in some cases staff had not acted even when it had been clear the foetus had failed to grow as expected.
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists president Dr David Richmond said: “Although fewer babies in the UK are stillborn today, it’s desperately disappointing that the four recommendations from this report remain exactly the same as when the last confidential enquiry took place 15 years ago.
“Today’s report suggests six in 10 of these stillbirths are potentially avoidable.
“We can and should do better by the 1,000 families affected by stillbirths that occur before a woman goes into labour each year in the UK.”
Elizabeth Hutton, chief executive of the Count the Kicks charity, said: “Many women who contact us think their babies could have been saved if basic guidelines had been followed and they often feel that they are not always taken seriously when they contact a healthcare professional with worries about reduced movement.”
But Prof Jenny Kurinczuk, one of the lead members of the panel, said there was no clear magic bullet in this situation.
She added: “We have to prevent stillbirths one by one to ensure that as a nation we are able to reduce our stillbirth rate to those rates experienced by our European neighbours.”
Separately, the report praised examples of “excellent” bereavement care, where midwives provided long-term support for families “in a way that surpassed normal expectations.”
The inquiry was conducted by a team of academics, clinicians and charity representatives called MBRRACE-UK and looked at cases that took place in 2013.
Last week the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced plans to reduce the stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths in England by 50% by 2030.
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