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Belfast stillbirth rate disturbing

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 16/02/2016

Nine in every thousand babies born in the Belfast hospitals were classified as stillbirths by a group comprising academics, charities and institutions which carry out investigations into such tragic events
Nine in every thousand babies born in the Belfast hospitals were classified as stillbirths by a group comprising academics, charities and institutions which carry out investigations into such tragic events

A report that says Belfast’s hospitals have the worst record in the UK for stillbirth — babies who died in the womb after 24 weeks or at birth — will be worrying for expectant mums or parents planning to start a family in the city.

Nine in every thousand babies born in the Belfast hospitals were classified as stillbirths by a group comprising academics, charities and institutions which carry out investigations into such tragic events.

It is a report that is not easily dismissed, even if the Belfast Trust has put forward reasons for the high mortality rate.

Yet even those reasons do not appear to fully explain why the Belfast record is the worst in the UK.

It is true that the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital handles the most complex and rare neonatal conditions as well as normal deliveries, but that is common among all regional maternity centres across the UK.

Another explanation put forward by both the trust and a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Midwives in the province is that Northern Ireland’s abortion laws do not allow for terminations of pregnancies where babies have severe congenital abnormalities, which may well result in a stillbirth when carried to full term.

Both argue that the report does not take account of these factors in weighing up relative stillbirth rates across the UK.

There may be some validity in that argument, but even if those factors were taken into account, would Belfast’s position in the UK ‘league table’ improve dramatically? There is another point raised in the report which has not been commented on by the trust. All 21 health authorities featured in the list were asked to conduct reviews to identify changes which could bring down the stillbirth rates. Belfast has not yet conducted an overall review, and there is no explanation as to why.

It is not good enough just to say that Belfast’s position is not truly reflective of its performance without then carrying out a review of the situation to see if there are ways to improve its standing.

Perhaps Health Minister Simon Hamilton should order a comprehensive review of maternity services to see if they are performing as they should be or if they can be improved. Motherhood is an anxious time for many and they should be assured that they will get the best possible services in hospital.

Belfast Telegraph

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