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Written on 12th May 2023 by Susan Brown

Maternal mortality watchdog,  MBRRACE-UK, have released some early data providing key statistics for UK maternal deaths from 2019 to 2021.

MBRRACE-UK is an acronym for Mothers and Babies: Reducing Risk through Audits and Confidential Enquiries, a collaboration led by the Oxford Population Health's National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, which monitors and reports on the deaths of mothers during or up to six weeks after pregnancy. MBRRACE-UK released the headline data for maternal deaths in 2019 to 2021 early in response to a call for faster publication of maternal mortality data in the recent Black Maternal Health report. More detailed data will follow when MBRRACE-UK publishes its ‘Saving Lives, Improving Mothers' Care’ Perinatal Mortality Surveillance Report in the autumn, and the results of the Confidential Enquiry into Perinatal Deaths in relation to the role of ethnicity towards the end of the year.

The figures show that, overall, there was a slight increase in the UK maternal death rate between 2018 to 2020 and 2019 to 2021. Covid-19 was the leading cause of maternal deaths, followed by cardiac disease,  thrombosis and thromboembolism (VTE), and issues relating to mental health.

Unacceptable disparities in the maternal mortality rates for Black and Asian women compared with White women remain unchanged, as does the increased risk associated with social deprivation.

Key statistics from MBRRACE-UK about maternal deaths from 2019-2021

MBRRACE-UK’s analysis of data relating to women who died during, or up to six weeks after, pregnancy between 2019 and 2021 showed that:

  • Overall, 259 women died during or within six weeks (42 days) of the end of pregnancy.
  • In 20 cases, the women’s deaths were coincidental, and were not thought to be related to their pregnancy or childbirth.
  • 239 women died from direct and indirect causes of pregnancy, out of a total of 2,066,997 pregnancies.
  • The maternal death rate for 2019 to 2021 was 11.56 per 100,000 maternities, an increase compared with the rate of 10.90 per 100,000 for 2018 to 2020.
  • 33 of the maternal deaths between March 2020 and December 2021 were from complications of covid-19 infection. If the covid-related deaths are excluded from the overall figures, this results in a slight decrease in the maternal mortality rate for 2019 to 2021 compared with 2018 to 2020.

MBRRACE-UK’s analysis of the causes of maternal death for 2019 to 2021 showed that Covid-19 was the leading cause of maternal death in the UK in 2019-2021. Only women who died from complications of covid-19 were included. The data excludes women who were known to have covid-19 at the time of their deaths but died from other causes. Previously reported research data from Oxford Population Health has suggested that those who suffered maternal death from covid-19 complications were more likely to be unvaccinated or to have not had adequate vaccination against covid-19.

Thrombosis and thromboembolism (VTE) was still the leading cause of direct death for women within six weeks of the end of pregnancy, with cardiac disease the second most frequent indirect cause of maternal death. Other common causes included sepsis and mental health issues, such as suicide.

MBRRACE-UK’s 2019 to 2021 maternal mortality statistics also highlight the ongoing, unacceptable disparity in the risk of maternal death depending on ethnic origin and levels of social deprivation. Black women were still four times more likely to die during or following pregnancy and childbirth than White women. Asian women were also at higher risk. The maternal mortality rate for women living in the most deprived areas was more than double the death rate for mothers who lived in the least deprived (or most affluent) areas.

Maternal death : avoidable, inequitable, unacceptable

As report after report highlights the avoidable and inequitable loss of life from maternal death, it is critical that these tragedies do not become normalised, but inspire immediate action. Each woman’s death is a missed opportunity, a tragic loss to a partner and wider family, often leaving behind at least one motherless child. MBRRACE-UK’s early data for 2019 to 2021 is deeply disappointing and the lack of progress will undoubtedly add to the distress of the bereaved families,  but it is vital that the data from each avoidable, inequitable and unacceptable death leads to lessons being learned.

If you have suffered a severe injury or bereavement as a result of medical negligence, or have been contacted by HSIB/HSSIB/CQC or NHS Resolution, you can talk to a solicitor, free and confidentially, for advice about how to respond or make a claim, by contacting us.