MIDWIVES and doctors at Royal Bolton Hospital have been leading the way to stop families undergoing the agony of stillbirths. MARY NAYLOR reports on how the hospital has been improving

THE Royal Bolton Hospital sees 6,000 mums-to-be every year and currently has the fewest number of stillborn deaths in Greater Manchester.

Its average is 3.5 stillbirths per 1,000 ­— down from 12 in 2017 ­— and there were no stillbirths in January this year, compared to 4.3 across the region.

The UK average was six babies in every 1,000 births in 2003, which has been dropping since then and is now 4.2.

In 2016, the NHS launched a project called Saving Babies’ Lives to reduce it even further.

Since that campaign, the Royal Bolton has massively improved its stillbirth rate.

Cath Bainbridge, acting matron for neonatal, said: “We want the best for our babies and when we’re not successful, we all feel that.

“I don’t think we would say there wasn’t an emotional impact. Yes, it’s the nature of the job, but even if you have seen 100 babies, it will still hurt as much as the first one did.”

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The staff’s own desire to look after the babies in their care has been a huge drive to get the best for the babies coming through the hospital.

Paul Settle, clinical lead for the families division at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust ,said: “We’re delighted with the latest statistics. We’ve made such fantastic improvements over the past 12 months, and the latest data shows that we have had a 25 per cent reduction in stillbirths since 2016.”

Last year, historic figures from Royal Bolton Hospital were flagged up by health bosses.

Doctors on Bolton Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) were concerned to hear about high numbers of neonatal mortality and stillbirths.

Figures from 2015-2017 showed there were months when the stillbirth rate at Royal Bolton Hospital was as high as 12 per 1,000 births.

Since April, 2017, the average rate has been dropping and on four separate months dropped to zero.

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With the hospital’s current figures, it is two years ahead of the national schedule.

Chairman David Wakefield said to staff: “Women and children are the flagship of this trust. It’s really important that we are the best and I’m delighted to see the things you’re doing.”

There are a variety of reasons why babies are stillborn. Sometimes there is no warning, but there can be signs and hospitals across the UK are working to improve the UK’s stillbirth rate.

These include smoking in pregnancy, detecting when a baby isn’t growing as well as expected in the womb, an awareness of reduced fetal movement, and how a baby’s heartrate is monitored during labour.

To reduce smoking in pregnancy the hospital has been offering a new service, BabyClear, which lets all women test their carbon monoxide levels at their first midwife appointment. A high level prompts specialist support throughout the pregnancy by new community support workers.

Midwives have been given extra training to support mums to know more about the movements of their unborn baby and when they need to act. Royal Bolton Hospital is also one of the first hospitals to invest in Dawes-Redman CTG monitors to provide enhanced monitoring during labour.

More staff have also been trained up to scan women where their baby is small for its age during pregnancy.

Two hospital midwives have completed ultrasound training allowing the hospital to provide evening and weekend scans. Community midwives have also been supported to identify earlier where a baby maybe considered small.

Val Clare, head of midwifery at Bolton NHS Foundation Trust said: “Our aim is to be the safest, most caring and responsive unit in the country and the work we are doing here really demonstrates this. We have a unique offering here in Bolton, in that women can choose to have their baby at home supported by one of our midwives, in our freestanding home from home midwife led unit at Ingleside, our alongside midwife led unit (the Bolton Beehive) in the maternity unit, or on our consultant led unit at the hospital.

“We will continue to identify and make improvements so that our families know when they come to us to have their baby, they are doing so in a safe environment with high quality care.”