Babies died needlessly: report

The deaths of nearly 100 late term and newborn babies could have been prevented in 2009, new figures show.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) released its fifth annual report assessing the deaths of babies and their mothers in New Zealand this morning.

It recorded 721 ''perinatal related deaths'' of babies aged between 20 weeks' gestation and 27 days in 2009.

For the first time, it revealed 98, or 14%, of perinatal deaths were potentially avoidable.

Preventable deaths included 60 stillbirths, 35 neonatal deaths and three unneeded pregnancy terminations.

The report also found 17 potentially avoidable maternal deaths between 2006 and 2009, including six avoidable deaths in 2008.

PMMRC chair Cynthia Farquhar said each death showed the need to keep making improvements to maternity services in New Zealand.

"The death of a baby or mother is a tragedy and we need to learn from these deaths to make improvements that will, ultimately, save lives," she said.

Key findings in the report showed 11.3 perinatal babies died for every 1000 births in New Zealand in 2009 - comparable with rates in Australia and the United Kingdom.

The maternal mortality rate in 2009 was 22 per 100,000 pregnancies, with suicide, pre-existing medical conditions and amniotic fluid embolism the most frequent causes of death.

Teenage mothers were at a higher risk of stillbirth and neonatal death than mothers aged 20 to 39.

Other key findings showed Maori and Pacific mothers are more likely to experience stillbirths or have a baby die before reaching 27 days old than New Zealand European and non-Indian Asian mothers.

Mothers who identified themselves as Maori had 9.4 stillbirths and 5.8 neonatal deaths per 1000 births.

New Zealand European mothers experienced 5.3 stillbirths and 1.9 neonatal deaths per 1000 births.

Professor Farquhar says PMMRC had put forward a series of measures to help reduce the number of deaths of babies and mothers.

It recommended establishing a national working group to consider the best way of providing services to young mothers.

That was accompanied by recommendations for the assessment of maternal mental health at the point of first contact with health services and regular training in managing obstetric emergencies for all staff involved in the care of pregnant women.

"I'm confident this report makes a significant contribution to the sector's understanding of why women and babies die, and PMMRC looks forward to discussing the issues raised here with clinical leaders and health managers."


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