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expert reaction to MBRRACE-UK report citing mental health as main cause of perinatal death

Whilst the number of direct pregnancy-related deaths has been steadily falling, the same cannot be said for indirect deaths linked to mental health. In fact almost a quarter of women who died due to indirect effects were due to mental health reasons and experts argue that these deaths were often unnecessary. Using data from the Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths (MBRRACE-UK), experts have assessed pregnancy-related deaths from 2009-2013 including reviews of more than 100 women who committed suicide during pregnancy or in the year after giving birth. These comments accompanied a briefing.


Prof. Ian Jones, Director, National Centre for Mental Health, Cardiff University and Vice-Chair, Perinatal Faculty, Royal College of Psychiatrists, said:

“For every woman who dies, there are many more who are near misses. The strength of the methodology used is the detailed review of all cases of maternal death in the UK and the depth of information gathered. We can therefore learn lessons that apply more broadly to mental health services not just to those for women in the perinatal period. The findings of the current report are consistent with previous reports and with current knowledge – what is sobering, however, is despite similar findings over the past decade we do not seem to be learning the lessons.

“As with previous reports the latest confidential enquiry into maternal deaths emphasise the importance of good mental health to women at this time. It is vital that the messages are heard and the lessons are learnt – not only by specialist perinatal clinicians but mental health teams more generally, in addition to antenatal services and primary care. A number of ‘red flags’ are described which need to be recognised and responded to. The findings of the report remind us that pregnancy and childbirth are not for all women times of joy but may herald episodes of severe mental illness. We must ensure that women with mental illness in the perinatal period, where ever they live, have access to the specialist services they need.”


Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care’ by Knight et al. published on Tuesday 8th December. 


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