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05.05.15

Obesity and poverty make UK childbirth more dangerous than elsewhere in Europe

Women in the UK are more than twice as likely to die in pregnancy and childbirth as those in Poland, Austria or Belarus, according to a new report.

Britain failed to rank in the top 20 places to be a mother for the third consecutive year, coming 24th globally.

The 2015 State of the World’s Mothers report from Save the Children found that women in the UK face a 1 in 6,900 lifetime risk of maternal death, placing it 30th overall. The risk was far greater than some higher achieving countries, such as Poland where the figure was much lower at one in 19,800, while in Austria it was one in 19,200 and one in 45,200 in Belarus.

A number of factors were linked with the high-risk pregnancies in the UK, including obesity, IVF, social deprivation, multiple pregnancies as well as increased maternal age and poorer access to healthcare, especially in some ethnic minority communities and among asylum seekers.

The UK also has a child mortality rate of 4.6 per 1,000 births, making a child more than twice as likely to die before the age of five than one in Iceland, where the rate is 2.1, and Luxembourg, with a rate of 2.0 per 1,000 births.

Save the Children International's chief executive, Jasmine Whitbread, said: "We urgently need to close the gap in life chances for mothers and children so that – no matter where they live – everyone has a fair chance to survive and fulfil their potential.

"For the first time in history, more than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. People are often drawn to cities by the prospect of a better life for their children, but many cities around the world are unable to keep up with breakneck growth, leaving hundreds of millions of mothers and children in cities without access to essential health services and the clean water they need to survive and stay healthy.

"If the world's going to complete the task of ending preventable child and maternal deaths, we have to find better ways of getting health care to urban populations, regardless of income.”

Commenting on the report, Carmel Lloyd, head of education and learning at the Royal College of Midwives, said:

“Unfortunately the report doesn’t state why this variation exists. However, the UK is still one of the safest places in the world to give birth.

“We monitor maternal deaths in this country very closely, and produce a triennial report on all maternal deaths in the UK & Ireland, which was most recently published in December 2014. It reviewed all such deaths between 2009-2012, and showed that the maternal mortality rate in the UK has decreased - the most significant decrease being among deaths as a direct result of pregnancy.

“The decrease is in the rate comes at a time when the number of births has increased by almost a quarter in the last decade and is at its highest level for 40 years. There has also been an increase in the proportion of women with ‘complex’ pregnancies such as multiple births, and those involving women over 40, or women with obesity or pre-existing medical and mental health conditions. These complexities increase the risks in childbirth - which require greater clinical involvement from midwives and doctors, and place increasing demands on NHS maternity services. The National Audit Office Report on Maternity Services in England in 2013 found that there was general underfunding of the maternity services, with a lack of resources and fewer midwives per birth than there were a decade ago.”  

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