2014 has seen a focus on the UK's unacceptably high levels of stillbirth like never before. Following attention such as last months' Panorama documentary, it is now lodged in the public consciousness and there is a will from all quarters to take action. Adding their voice to the ring is the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists who have just announced the launch of their new initiative Each Baby Counts to help reduce the UK's stillbirth rate. Here at Tommy's we know that, for many years, stillbirth has been treated as an unsolvable problem and to see momentum like this is really heartening.
The UK has one of the highest stillbirth rates in the developed world. Every year 3,500 babies are stillborn. Five hundred of these babies - who are otherwise perfectly healthy - are lost because something goes wrong in labour. From January 2015, the RCOG will start collecting and analysing data from all full-term stillbirths that happen in labour so that learnings can be shared nationally for the very first time. Up until now, hard lessons learned have been kept to a local level, preventing wider understanding and knowledge on a larger scale.
By improving the management of labour for others and accelerating the speed at which this happens, the RCOG hopes to halve the number of these stillbirths by 2020. Their recognition that some stillbirths are preventable feeds into a wider change in mindset across the field, and we can now see real and meaningful action starting to take shape.
Whilst this is an important step forwards towards saving babies' lives, it's only part of the answer. The majority of babies who are stillborn pass away due to problems in pregnancy, rather than birth. Tommy's research focuses on what goes wrong in pregnancy such as growth restriction and problems with the placenta, with the aim of spotting babies at risk of being stillborn and delivering them to safety.
However it's a hard reality that research is slow to deliver the answers that we so desperately want. This is particularly true for stillbirth because it is a relatively new field of investigation. It's certainly good to see the RCOG taking action where it can; best practice in clinical care should always be a given and not an aspiration. Each Baby Counts serves as a reminder of this.
Whilst we must do everything in our power to prevent stillbirths happening in labour we mustn't let up on preventing stillbirths that are caused by pregnancy complications either. It's only by combining looking at care in labour with funding considerably more research into pregnancy complications that we will see a reduction in the stillbirth rate across the board.