The five-year project – known as Each Baby Counts – will focus on incidents caused during term labour, with a 50% reduction targeted by 2020.
Stillbirth rates in the UK remain stubbornly high. Current estimates suggest that around 500 babies a year die or are left severely disabled because something goes wrong during labour.
Some babies who are starved of oxygen at birth survive but are left with a severe brain injury, sometimes known as cerebral palsy. Sadly many of these babies will not survive infancy, or will suffer with a life-long disability.
From January 2015, the Each Baby Counts project, which is part funded by the Department of Health, will begin collecting and analysing data from all UK units in order to identify lessons learned to improve future care.
Bringing together the results from local hospital reviews of these cases will enable RCOG to make recommendations for key actions to improve practice. The action plans will then be monitored by measuring the trends and geographic distribution of deaths and severe brain injuries in the future.
‘Ambitious and exciting’
Professor Zarko Alfirevic, co-principal investigator for the project, said: “Most pregnant women receive exemplary care during labour in our NHS hospitals, but tragically, some babies die or are left severely brain-damaged.
“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.
“The Each Baby Counts project aims to pool the results of local investigations to gain a national picture and develop actions to prevent these tragedies from recurring.
“This is one of the most ambitious and exciting projects in women’s health in the UK at the moment. Our goal poses a significant challenge but we are confident that we will achieve it.”
Jacque Gerrard, director for England at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM), said: “Each Baby Counts is a very welcome initiative which the RCM fully supports. It is incredibly important that we are all committed to reducing the number of stillbirths, early neonatal deaths and brain injuries.
“It is vital that we learn the lessons from each of these tragic events. We must also ensure that what we learn is shared and any actions implemented across the whole country. We hope that the RCOG quality improvement initiative target of halving the number of events by 2020 is achieved.”