British stillbirth rate 'a scandal'
Britain's record of stillbirths has been condemned as a "national scandal" after it was shown to be one of the worst in the developed world.
More babies are born dead in the UK than almost anywhere else among the richer nations, latest figures revealed.
Each year in excess of 4,000 British babies are stillborn, the equivalent of 11 a day, according to national statistics.
The figure, 10 times the toll of cot deaths and more than the number of people killed on the roads, has remained largely unchanged in a decade. It also masks big postcode differences. For a woman in the Midlands, the chances of having a stillborn child are a third greater than they would be if she lived in the south-west.
The UK's stillbirth rate of 3.5 per 1,000 births ranks it 32 places below the best performer, Finland, in a league table of 193 countries that includes some of the world's poorest. Of all the high-income countries, only New Zealand, Austria and France have higher stillbirth rates. The UK's record puts it on a par with Belarus and Estonia.
Other high-income countries such as Norway, Australia and Holland have seen significant reductions in their stillbirth rates.
Neal Long, chief executive of Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, said: "Eleven babies dying every day is a national scandal which has persisted for far too long in this country. This seemingly endless death toll of thousands of babies every year has the most terrible long-term impact on parents and their families. We now have no excuse in the UK for our persistently high stillbirth levels and we must act immediately.
"Many mums in the UK have increasingly complex pregnancies. This, coupled with already stretched maternity services, entering an era of budget cuts, could spell disaster for many more babies and their families."
Authors of the report, published in The Lancet medical journal, said stillbirth had been an "invisible" problem that was largely ignored. They called for a worldwide focus on prevention strategies such as improved access to good obstetric care and screening to identify women at risk.
Health Minister Anne Milton said: "The death of any child is a tragedy. We want women to receive consistently excellent maternity and newborn services that focus on improving outcomes. The Department of Health continues to invest in research in this important area."