HC Deb 23 October 1984 vol 65 cc574-6W
Mr. Wood

asked the Secretary of State for Social Services when he expects to reply to the Social Services Committee's Third Report on perinatal and neonatal mortality.

Mr. Fowler

The Government's reply is published today. Like the Social Services Committee, we welcome the substantial fall in perinatal mortality there has been since the Committee's previous report on this subject—a reduction in England from 14.6 perinatal deaths per 1,000 births in 1979 to 10.3 in 1983.

Differences in mortality rates remain between regions and broad social classes, and we share the Committee's concern that these should be further reduced. In the Government's view this is best tackled by the regional and district health authorities concerned reviewing critically existing arrangements for the delivery of all aspects of maternity and neonatal care, and comparing their practice with the standards for good practice put forward by the Maternity Services Advisory Committee. That Committee has already produced two reports—on antenatal and on intrapartum care — which we have commended and distributed widely to the NHS. It is currently considering post natal care of mothers and care of the newborn, its report on which should be completed around the end of he year.

The Social Services Committee argues for additional resources to be diverted to improving provision for neonatal intensive care and maternity services generally in areas of social deprivation. It is for health authorities to consider these recommendations in the first instance, in the light of their reviews of current provision and their local circumstances. The Government are not convinced, however, that extra cash for the maternity and neonatal services is necessarily the answer. The experience of the last five years with a substantial decline in perinatal mortality rates, suggests that a great deal can be done by better deployment of the staff and resources already available to reach mothers and babies who may be at risk.

The Government's reply gives detailed responses to the 22 individual recommendations aimed at the Government by the Department, as well as a general commentary on the Committee's report. Those recommendations aimed directly at the NHS or bodies representative of the health professions will be referred to health authorities and those bodies for their consideration.