UK 'lagging behind' on reducing number of stillbirths

Video report by ITV News Correspondent Richard Pallot

The UK is lagging behind many other European countries who are doing a better job of reducing the number of still births.

And not surprisingly, there is still a horrifying gap between what happens in the world's poorest families, compared to its richest.

A global study, led by a scientist from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, found over two and a half million babies were stillborn last year - that's over seven thousand a day.

Number of stillborn babies worldwide in 2015

Babies are classed as stillborn if they die at any point after 28 weeks of pregnancy, up to the birthing process itself which is when half occur.

Over 98% of stillbirths happen in low and middle-income countries. Pakistan has a rate of 43.1 for every 1,000 children born - that's one in every 23 mothers finding out their baby is dead.

Pakistan had the worst stillbirths rate in 2015 with 43.1 per 1,000 births

Yet at the other end of the scale in Iceland there are just 1.3 in every 1,000.

The new research, published in The Lancet, isn't all bad news.

In the past decade and a half stillbirth rates have fallen across the globe.So where does the UK fit in?

UK stillbirth rate is 2.9 per 1,000 births

We are currently well behind Iceland, recording a stillbirth rate more than double theirs, at 2.9 per 1,000 births.

That, found the authors, puts us 21st in the world, well behind countries like Poland and even Korea.

UK is 21st in the world for the rate of stillbirths, behind Poland and Korea

Equally worrying is the UK's annual rate of reduction, which is now just 1.4% - placing us 114th globally for progress on stillbirths.

So what aren't we doing as well as we might?

The Netherlands, which has cut its rates by almost 7%, hasn't just improved care during the birth, but focused on women's health while they are pregnant and even before that too.

Here in the UK, the survey found mothers in the most deprived areas were up to twice as likely to experience a stillbirth as the country's most affluent mums - although that research only covered the years up to 2005.

Still, Dr David Richmond, consultant gynaecologist and president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, describes the survey as a "wake-up call".

In the UK, there is still much to be done to ensure our rate of progress is as good as the best in Europe.

Through the Each Baby Counts initiative, we are this year beginning to undertake a structured review of each and every stillbirth that occurs during labour in term pregnancies to help identify common risk factors, learn from what went wrong and apply the lessons in maternity units across the country.

– Dr David Richmond

But on a global level far more work is needed.

Heartbreakingly almost half of the world's stillbirths could be prevented with improved care for women and babies during labour and childbirth.

The United Nations has set an international target of 12 or fewer stillbirths per 1,000 by 2030.

But for that to become a reality, 56 countries, most of them in Africa, will have to double the rate of progress made since the turn of the century.