When I read this article in The Times last Wednesday, and the newspaper's accompanying editorial, I just felt angry. If you didn't see the newspaper that day, these pieces place a large part of the blame for the UK's comparatively high level of stillbirths and perinatal deaths squarely on the NHS and midwifery care.
These articles were followed pretty quickly by this tweet from the health secretary, talking about babies "killed" by the NHS. This kind of language, pillorying the very people working hard to maintain a safe service, is bad enough when it appears in a shoddy piece of journalism, but should simply be beneath a secretary of state.
I know I am not the only one who reacted in this way. A great many midwives and people working in and around our profession have been in touch to express similar thoughts.
The factors behind the higher incidence of stillbirth and perinatal death do not lie solely or even mainly within the NHS. Women living in areas with the highest levels of social deprivation, for instance, are over 50% more likely to experience a stillbirth. The Government has many policy options to alleviate social deprivation and its impact on women's lives, but it has to choose to use them. One wonders how cutting £12billion from the welfare budget, for example, will help lessen the effects of social deprivation.
Babies of black or black British and Asian or Asian British ethnicity had the highest risk of extended perinatal mortality with, respectively, rates of 9.8 and 8.8 per 1,000 births. It is not within the power of midwives or the NHS to change that, so what is the Secretary of State doing with his Cabinet colleagues to bring the power of Government to address deep-seated challenges like this?
The NHS often has to deal with the fallout and consequences of wider government decision-making, and this is no different. It is no surprise to me that the countries performing best in this area are in Scandinavia, where social differences matter across everything their governments do and where supporting parents and families is seen very much as a priority and is an area for investment.
I want to work with the secretary of state - just as we worked constantly with partner organisations such as the RCOG - to improve the safety of maternity care. I have sought an urgent meeting with him in which I hope we can do this, as well as asking for urgent clarification over what he precisely meant by his remarks. Hopefully we can get him to do a little more than tweet about some very ingrained social problems.
This blog first appeared on the Royal College of Midwives blog, and can be read here