Anyone who saw Monday's BBC Panorama documentary on stillbirth will have been shocked to discover that for every 200 babies born in the UK, one of them will be stillborn; and to hear that despite our relative affluence, the UK has one of the worst rates of stillbirth in the developed world. While for some the figures were a revelation, the reality is that stillbirth rates have remained persistently high and virtually unchanged for the last 20 years. Every day, nine babies will be stillborn and nine families will lose their hopes and dreams for their baby, adding up to around 3500 separate tragedies a year. As a charity that funds research into stillbirth and supports families that go through this grief, we see the devastation that stillbirth brings and we share the frustration that until recently, so little has been done to address the unacceptable levels of stillbirth in this country.
For many years stillbirth was presented to parents as 'just one of those things'. As a topic, stillbirth has been viewed as taboo and too painful to discuss, while among medical practice it has been seen as nature's way and not worth investigating. Monday's programme is an extremely encouraging sign that the veil is starting to lift. It also revealed that at long last, things are starting to change - the Government has committed to reducing stillbirth and pockets of research are taking place to try and find simple methods of spotting those at risk and delivering their babies to safety.
Tommy's is among the few organisations and clinicians carrying out research into stillbirth to help save more babies' lives. Our Manchester research centre focuses on discovering the link between the placenta, the baby's life support machine, and problems such as growth restriction which are a leading cause of stillbirth. Using sophisticated scanning techniques our team have been able to identify babies at risk and act early, resulting in a reduction in stillbirth in the local area.
Many Panorama viewers will have been left wondering why approaches such as these aren't being rolled out. There is a strong will to do something about stillbirth, and our jobs as researchers and practitioners is to make sure that we don't just do anything, we do the right thing.
Stillbirth isn't a medical problem or disease in its own right, it's the end result of any number of factors that can go wrong in pregnancy. Tommy's research and that of our peers is bringing us ever closer to understanding the range of causes and developing prevention strategies. However there is much further to go before we have the approaches that can be adopted universally.
More research is needed, and the broader public and political recognition of the problem - signalled by the fact we are even discussing the topic on mainstream programmes such as Panorama - is an important step on that journey.