Daily Mail

Britain’s maternity mortality scandal

New mums in UK are THREE times more likely to die than those in Norway, says Oxford study

- By Kate Pickles Health Editor

MOTHERS in the UK are over three times more likely to die during pregnancy or within a year of giving birth than in Norway, a study reveals.

A comparison of eight high-income European countries found only Slovakia had worse rates of maternal deaths.

Analysis of more than two million UK births showed heart disease and suicide were the leading causes of death among new mothers, suggesting that rising obesity and mental health issues are to blame.

Yet in more than half of cases in Britain, doctors are failing to record links to maternity on death certificat­es, obscuring the full scale of the crisis, the researcher­s suggest.

Half of the UK deaths occurred in the 12 months following birth, pointing to shortcomin­gs in postnatal care.

It follows a report last week that the number of women who died up to six weeks after having

‘Heart disease and suicide’

a baby has leapt by a quarter in five years. Some 229 mothers died alongside 27 of their babies between 2018 and 2020, with many of the deaths ‘avoidable’. A further 289 women died between six weeks and a year later.

The latest findings come from an internatio­nal team of researcher­s, including Oxford University academics, who examined data on millions of live births across Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, the Netherland­s, Norway, Slovakia and the UK.

Rates of death among mothers in pregnancy and up to 42 days after the birth varied from 2.7 per 100,000 live births in Norway to 10.9 in Slovakia, with the UK second worst at 9.6.

Only the UK and France held data on so-called late maternal deaths – those up to 12 months after giving birth. They accounted for half of all UK maternal deaths and a quarter of France’s, at 19.1 and 10.8 deaths per 100,000 respective­ly.

Heart disease and suicide were the leading causes of death, with blood clots also ranking highly among UK mothers.

Youngest and oldest mothers were at particular risk, along with those born abroad or from ethnic minority background­s.

The findings, published in the BMJ, suggest rising obesity levels are taking their toll, with experts warning it has become one of the most commonly occurring risk factors in obstetric practice.

Some 21.3 per cent of the antenatal population are obese and just 47.3 per cent have a body mass index (BMI) within the normal range, according to the Royal College of Obstetrici­ans and Gynaecolog­ists.

Pregnant women who are obese are at greater risk of pregnancy-related complicati­ons compared with women of normal BMI, including pre-eclampsia and gestationa­l diabetes.

Researcher­s said the high level of cardiovasc­ular deaths – which can be linked to diabetes and high blood pressure – partly explained why risk was higher in older women. They also called for more to be done to tackle mental health issues, with serious conditions including psychosis known to increase in pregnancy.

Professor Andrew Shennan, of King’s College London, said it was vital deaths were properly monitored so they could shape policy. He added: ‘All countries should have a dedicated surveillan­ce system. [This] will allow strategies and policy makers to direct efforts appropriat­ely.’

Sara Ledger, from childbirth charity Baby Lifeline, said: ‘This research is yet another reminder that there needs to be a focus on improving maternal health. Children shouldn’t be left motherless, particular­ly when different care could make the lifesaving difference.’

A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘ We have already invested £127million into the maternity system to boost the workforce and improve care. NHS England has published guidance to reduce disparitie­s and improve maternity outcomes, supported by £6.8million of investment – alongside commission­ing specialist networks run by midwives and experts so women can access care for chronic medical problems around pregnancy.’

‘Obesity levels taking toll’

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