Jim Shannon – 2016 Parliamentary Question to the Department of Health

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Jim Shannon on 2016-02-09.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health, what steps he is taking to reduce deaths of premature babies.

Ben Gummer

We are committed making sure every baby receives consistently high quality care, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

In November 2015, the Government announced a national ambition to halve by 2030 the rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth.

To support the National Health Service in achieving this ambition we also announced:

― a £2.24 million capital fund for equipment to improve safety;

― over £1 million to roll out training programmes to make sure staff have the skills and confidence they need to deliver world-leading safe care; and

― £500,000 to develop a new system that can be used consistently across the NHS to enable staff to review and learn from every stillbirth and neonatal death.

The announcement also committed to publishing an annual report to update the public, health professionals, providers and commissioners on the progress we are making towards achieving the ambition.

The National Maternity Review, chaired by Baroness Cumberlege, will include proposals for the future shape of modern, high quality and sustainable maternity services across England. We anticipate that its report will have an important role in shaping the system to achieve our ambition.

For those babies who are born sick or premature, NHS England commissions Neonatal Care from 165 neonatal units. These units are organised and supported by 13 Operational Delivery Networks. The organisation of networks has brought tangible benefits in the delivery of babies in the right place to receive specialist care when it is needed.

NHS England’s Neonatal Critical Care Service Specification states that providers should ensure that expert and experienced staff treat sufficient numbers of cases to maintain a safe high quality service and move towards national standards.

It is for local hospital trusts and specialised commissioners to decide how best to use the guidance and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence quality standard for specialist neonatal care to improve babies’ chances of survival and minimise mortality associated with being born either premature or unwell. We know that that there is still more to do to ensure these services are consistent across the country and that is why the Neonatal Clinical Reference Group at NHS England has committed to review the findings of the Bliss report, (published in October 2015 which can be found here http://www.bliss.org.uk/babyreport), and will work with all of its key partners to make recommendations for further improvement.

Unless we invest in research we cannot understand how to best improve services for mothers and their babies. Significant sums have been invested over recent years in support of research looking at important questions regarding premature birth. The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) funds a range of research relating to causes, risk factors and prevention of stillbirth and neonatal death. The NIHR Health Technology Assessment is funding a £6.0 million trial of an intelligent system to support decision making in the management of labour using the cardiotocogram – due to report in 2017. The NIHR is also funding a £1.2 million study on preventing adverse pregnancy outcome in women at increased risk of stillbirth by detecting placental dysfunction– due to report in 2019.

To help achieve the best outcomes, women are also offered a comprehensive programme of scans, screening tests and development examinations during pregnancy and following birth babies will receive the checks in the NHS newborn and infant physical examination screening programme and the NHS newborn blood spot screening programme .