Study finds slightly higher risk of death for babies born at the weekend

The risk of perinatal death (stillborn or within 7 days of birth) increases on Saturdays and Sundays - but the RCM reassures us that 'maternity services in the UK are among the safest in the world'

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A new observational study by Imperial College London has hit the headlines today as it suggests babies born in NHS hospitals on Saturdays or Sundays are more likely to die than those born during the week. 

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What are the figures?

In case you’ve seen some scary headlines, let’s unpack the details of the findings for you.

It does seem that there is a slightly higher risk of stillbirths or babies dying within 1 week of birth if they are born at the weekend. 7.1 deaths occur per 1,000 babies born at the weekend compared to 6.5 deaths per 1,000 babies born during the week. That’s an  increase of 0.9 higher deaths per 1,000 babies born – which means 770 babies more per year die at weekends than during the week.

Was the study all about stillbirth? 

No, it looked at a range of complications, from newborn death to maternal infection to perineal tearing – so it wasn’t just about stillbirths.

For example, it also found that there were 470 more maternal infections on the weekend than would be expected on weekdays.

Does it explain why the risk of death is higher at weekends? 

No – the study was just observational, and so definite conclusions can’t be drawn about cause and effect.

So what do the experts say?

Speaking about the study, Louise Silverton, director for midwifery at the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said:

“Midwifery and maternity staffing levels are the same on weekends as they are on weekdays. Midwives work across 24 hours, 365 days per year.

“Maternity units are already working at full capacity with greater demand for care with increasing complications. We are already 2,600 midwives in England alone…

“We need to make sure that we identify the ‘possible causes’ so we can continue to ensure women receive the best possible care for both them and their baby.”

In addition, the RCM told MfM directly that “labour wards are staffed the same every day of the week and that we would want to reassure women that maternity services in the UK are among the safest in the world”.

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