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Written on 12th January 2024 by Susan Brown

Maternal mortality watchdog, MBRRACE-UK, has published its latest ‘data brief’ round up of statistics from its surveillance of maternal deaths in the UK from 2020 to 2022.

The summary figures, released in advance of MBRRACE-UK’s full report later this year, show that the rate of women dying during pregnancy, childbirth or post-natally compared to the overall number of pregnancies and births increased in 2020-2022 compared with previous years.

The increase in the maternal death rate is even greater when those affected by the covid-19 pandemic are removed from the figures. Social and ethnic inequalities continue to increase the risk of death from pregnancy and childbirth for mothers with Black or Asian heritage and those living in deprivation.

How many women died in the UK during or after pregnancy in 2020 to 2022?

MBRRACE-UK’s headline figures show that overall, the maternal death rate in the UK increased in 2020-2022 compared with 2019-2021. MBRRACE-UK monitors the deaths of new and expectant mothers on a yearly basis, but also combines the figures into two-yearly and three-yearly groups, to highlight trends and identify where improvements are needed. The latest round up shows that there has been a significant increase in the maternal death rate (with more women dying) since 2017-2019. The rate increased even when the impact of deaths due to covid were excluded. 

There were 2,028,543 maternities (pregnancies and births) in the UK from 2020 to 2022. During this time, 293 women died during pregnancy or within 42 days (six weeks) of the end their pregnancy, but the deaths of 21 women were coincidental. That means that 272 women died from causes related to or worsened by their pregnancy, birth or maternity treatment. MBRRACE-UK refers to these as direct or indirect causes.

The maternal death rate or maternal mortality rate in 2020-2022 was 13.41 deaths per 100,000 maternities.  This has increased from a rate of 11.66 per 100,000 maternities in 2019-21, and a rate of 8.79 per 100,000 maternities in 2017-2019. The increase in the maternal death rate in 2020-2022 cannot simply be explained by the covid pandemic, because even when covid-related deaths are excluded from the figures, the rates are still higher than the corresponding rates for 2019-2021 and significantly higher than 2017-2019. 

What were the most common causes of maternal death in the UK in 2020-2022?

Thrombosis or thromboembolism, also sometimes called venous thromboembolism or VTE, was the leading cause of maternal death for women during or up to six weeks after the end of pregnancy.  VTE is the medical term for when a blood clot forms in a vein, such as deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE).

Covid-19 was the second most common cause of maternal death. 38 women died between March 2020 and December 2022 during or within six weeks of the end of their pregnancy from complications of covid infection. This does not include women who coincidentally had covid at the time of their death but died from other causes.

The next two most common direct causes of maternal death after VTE were suicide and sepsis due to pregnancy-related infections. The next most common indirect causes of maternal death (after covid) were cardiac disease (heart disease),  neurological conditions, such as stroke and epilepsy, and mental health conditions.

How does being Black or Asian affect the risk of death in pregnancy or childbirth?

MBRRACE-UK’s latest headline summary statistics for 2020-2022 show that Black or Asian mothers continue to have an unacceptably higher risk of dying during or immediately after pregnancy or childbirth.

The maternal mortality rate for women with Black ethnicity was almost three times higher than the rate for White women. Whilst this appears to show some improvement from previous findings of a four times higher rate MBRRACE-UK emphasise that the apparent decrease in the Black maternal death rate from 2019-2021 is mainly because of the increase in the maternal mortality rate amongst White women, appearing to close the gap but only by a worsening of the death rates amongst all pregnant or post-natal women.

For Asian women there has been no improvement in the maternal death rate since 2019-2021. In 2020-2022, the pregnancy-related death rate for Asian mothers was still almost twice as high as it was for White women.

How did social deprivation in the UK affect the risk of death from pregnancy and childbirth in 2020-2022?

The increased risk of death from pregnancy or birth-related causes for women living in social deprivation was slightly (but not statistically significantly) higher in 2020-2022 than in 2019-2021. MBRRACE-UK’s ongoing surveillance shows that women who live in the most deprived areas of the UK face a risk of maternal death that is twice as high as those from the least deprived areas.

Compensation for families after negligent maternity care leads to a mother’s death

The shocking trend that is highlighted by MBRRACE-UK’s latest figures is that pregnancy and childbirth-related maternal deaths are increasing. This increase cannot be explained away by the covid pandemic and continues after years of warnings from MBRRACE-UK and other maternity investigations and awareness campaigns about many of the causes and risk factors affecting maternal death.

Maternity surveillance and annually published statistics are a vital source of learning at a national level for the NHS but that learning must result in safer maternity care at local level. Each death, regardless of race, social status or individual mother’s state of health, is a tragic and often avoidable loss, with devastating lifelong effects on her children, partner, family and wider community. Where the death has been caused by negligence and would have been avoided with proper care, the bereaved partner and children may be entitled to compensation, not just for money’s sake, but to help with the devastating consequences of the mother or partner’s death, and the cost of bringing up her children without her daily presence and loving care.

If you or a family member have suffered severe injury as a result of medical negligence or have been contacted by HSSIB/MNSI 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.