Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Wednesday, 17 June 2009 10:53 UK

Care issues factor in baby deaths

Newborn babies in hospital
A shortage of key medical staff leads to care standards being compromised

Problem areas in health care are contributing to the deaths of almost 300 babies in Wales every year, a report by a charity has claimed.

Entitled Saving Babies' Lives, the report by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, wants the action taken to cut the death toll.

It highlights under-resourced maternity and neo-natal services and a lack of research as contributing factors.

Health Minister Edwina Hart said there was "work to do" on the services.

The report details the shortage of midwives in Wales and how those being recruited are often newly-qualified and inexperienced, leading to standards of care being compromised in units.

It also claims there is a shortage of foetal medicine consultants in Welsh units and that their heavy workloads lead to recruitment problems.

177 babies are stillborn every year in Wales, which is one in every 200 babies born in Wales
115 babies die shortly after birth every year in Wales
Ten times more babies are stillborn than die of cot death every year in Wales
The stillbirth rate in Wales has not changed in the last 15 years
Source: Sands

"Bliss, the special care baby charity, describes neonatal services in Wales as a poor relation to services in England with staffing levels 'stretched to breaking point'," said Sands in the report.

"Valuable lessons about why babies are dying are being lost because data on stillbirths and newborn baby deaths in Wales is not being collected," the report says.

Sands chief executive Neal Long said 300 babies dying each year in Wales was "a national tragedy".

"For too long these deaths have been ignored and yet there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that many babies' lives could be saved with better antenatal care, increased funding for maternity services, more midwives and increased funding for research," he said.

"Some deaths are unavoidable, but better care could save babies' lives."

Welsh Liberal Democrat leader Kirsty Williams, who is launching the report with Sands, said it was essential to "make sure that stillbirths and neonatal deaths are recognised as a major health issue in Wales".

"Over the past 12 years there has been no significant improvement in stillbirth rates in Wales," she said

"As a country we must stop accepting stillbirths as the norm, instead we must tackle this tragic trend."

More training

Ms Hart said that while work was already under way to improve maternity and neonatal services across Wales, she recognised there was still work to do.

"Plans have been developed and are being implemented to improve neonatal care for sick and premature babies in Wales," she said.

"The services that will be developed will be provided through clinical networks. The networks will comprise linked groups of health professionals from primary and secondary care and, where necessary, specialist services.

"An extra £4m will be used over the next two years to support improvements."

She said more midwifery training places would be made available and said the assembly government was working with Sands to improve provision.

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