Thank you to all those who contacted me about baby loss and disparities in maternity care. The death of a baby is a devastating experience. I sympathise profoundly with anyone who is affected.
While death in childbirth is thankfully a rare event, it has become more common in recent years. It is also a tragedy that exposes deep inequalities: the stillbirth rate among babies born in the most deprived areas of England is double that in the least deprived; Black women are almost four times more likely than white women to die in childbirth; and women from Asian ethnic backgrounds face a twofold risk.
While the Government has previously committed to halving the number of stillbirths by 2025, the most recent data from the Office for National Statistics shows an overall increase in rates of babies dying before, during or soon after birth.
Midwives do an incredible job, but they are understaffed and overstretched. The Care Quality Commission highlights a shortage of midwives, with the number of full-time equivalents falling by 633 between April 2021 and April 2022, the largest annual decrease since records began in 2009.
I believe urgent action to tackle these inequalities is crucial. Yet the Government’s Maternal Disparities Taskforce had not met in over nine months, despite only being set up in February last year.
In my view, we need to reform health and care services to build an NHS fit for the future, with a workforce plan that will make serious improvements in maternity care. This is part of a ten-year plan for change and modernisation of the NHS to deliver higher standards for patients.
Paid for by ending the non-dom tax status, the plan will create 10,000 extra nursing and midwifery placements every year, double the number of district nurses each year and train 5,000 more health visitors, as well as doubling the number of medical school places.
Improving maternity services must be a priority. We need a strategy to ensure all women have access to safe, high-quality maternity care, address inequalities in reproductive health, and end the Black and Asian maternal mortality gap.