New reports show poorer neonatal outcomes for babies already facing inequalities, highlighting urgent need for action

Posted on July 11, 2024


Two new reports released today, 11 July 2024, highlight the urgent need for action to improve equity of outcomes for babies in neonatal care.

New data from MBRRACE-UK shows that neonatal mortality rates in the UK rose, for the second year running, between January and December 2022. This included a significant rise in rates among babies born at 32 to 36 weeks’ gestation.

The neonatal mortality rate – the number of babies who die within the first 28 days of life – was 1.69 in 1000 live births in the UK overall, up from 1.65 in the previous year. This included rises in England to 1.67, and in Wales to 1.91; although rates fell in Scotland to 1.59 and in Northern Ireland to 2.29.

There continue to be significant disparities in neonatal mortality rates across ethnic and socio-economic groups, which in many cases is getting worse. There was an increase in the neonatal mortality rate for Asian babies for the second year in a row, while both Black and Asian babies continued to have substantially higher rates of neonatal mortality than White babies.

For babies born to mothers living in the most deprived areas, the neonatal mortality rate was double that of those born in the areas of least deprivation, a figure which has risen for the past three years.

Separately, a new report on perinatal mental health from the National Maternity and Perinatal Audit (NMPA) shows that the rates of pre-term birth and neonatal morbidity in England are higher for babies born to women and birthing parents who’ve had prior contact with mental health services.

These new findings, based on data from births between 1 April 2018 and 31 March 2019, showed that the rate of preterm birth was higher for women and birthing people who had contact with secondary mental health services in the past (10.6%) than for those who had not (6.6%).

In addition, rates of neonatal morbidity for babies born to women and birthing people with previous mental health services contact were higher, at 9.4%, than for those with no prior contact, at 7.0% respectively; and was highest, at 12.8%, for those babies born to women and birthing people who had previously been admitted to an NHS hospital for their mental health.

Caroline Lee-Davey, Bliss Chief Executive said: “Together these reports paint a bleak picture of the inequities facing babies born in the UK today.

“It is distressing to see that the MBRRACE report shows a deepening of the devastating health inequalities that already impact the chance of survival of babies from some backgrounds. As it stands, Black, Asian and other minority ethnicity babies, and babies from deprived backgrounds, face a much higher risk of neonatal death than White babies and those from less deprived backgrounds – an injustice which cannot be ignored.

“The NMPA report, in turn, shows that babies born to women who have had prior contact with mental health services are at higher risk of both pre-term birth and neonatal morbidity, highlighting the importance of joined-up care and the need for better psychological support for parents of babies in neonatal care.

“The new Government has urgent work to do to bridge these gaps to ensure that a baby’s background and their mother’s mental health history are no longer factors driving their chances of survival and health.

“We call on the Secretary of State for Health & Social Care to waste no time in taking action to reverse the stark differences revealed today. As a priority, we would like to see renewed focus and funding to reduce these inequalities including:

  • Committing to clear targets to reduce inequalities in rates of neonatal mortality, brain injury, and pre-term birth across all socio-economic and ethnic groups
  • Investing in the research and improvement programmes needed to reach those targets
  • Appointing a National Neonatal Safety Champion with a clear remit to reduce inequalities in mortality and neonatal outcomes”.