HC Deb 09 March 1993 vol 220 cc490-1W
Mr. Quentin Davies

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the impact of the new definition of stillbirth will be on statistics of perinatal mortality.

Mr. Sackville

The Government were pleased to be able to support Rosie Barnes's private Member's Bill which resulted in the extension of the definition of stillbirth to include losses at 24 to 27 weeks' gestation. The loss of a baby in these circumstances is a tragedy for the family involved and it is clearly right that there should be proper and formal recognition. Extending the definition from 28 weeks to 24 weeks has made that possible.

In terms of published statistics on stillbirth it is estimated that the inclusion of these losses will mean, at present rates, approximately 800 more registered stillbirths in England and Wales annually.

It is important not only that the effect of the new definition should be reflected in the routine statistics but that trends can continue to be the subject of monitoring and analysis in spite of the change. For this reason, future Office of Population Censuses and Surveys publications over the next few years will contain data on trends with and without stillbirths in the 24 to 27-week period as from 1 October 1992, the operative date of the new definition.

That latest published figure for the rate of perinatal mortality—stillbirths and deaths in the first week of life —in England and Wales in 1991 was eight per 1,000 live and stillbirths. This is the lowest ever recorded. Published data will continue to include both single-year figures on the old and new basis and averages over the most recent three-year period for which we have comparative data. Single-year figures, especially for regional and other sub-national analyses, can be volatile now that the rates are so low. Therefore, the combined three-year average provides a more reliable indication of underlying trends at these levels as well as nationally.

The national health service continues to give a high priority to the further reduction of stillbirths, including full participation in the nationwide confidential inquiry into stillbirths and deaths in infancy.