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First Perinatal Report Issued

31 October 2007

First report from committee looking at deaths of mothers and babies

A committee charged with reviewing the deaths of newborn babies, as well as pregnant and new mothers, has released its first report.

The Perinatal and Maternal Mortality Review Committee (PMMRC) was set up in 2005 to advise the Minister of Health about the best way reduce the numbers of preventable perinatal and maternal deaths, says PMMRC chair Professor Cynthia Farquhar.

“We feel really encouraged and well supported by everyone who is working to improve maternity care and the health of newborn infants in New Zealand.”

The first two years of work for the committee have involved setting-up New Zealand wide systems to collect information about perinatal and maternal deaths. This has included deciding what kind of information is going to be useful by looking at systems overseas and talking to professional groups like the medical colleges.

“This is an impressive achievement that has only been fulfilled because of the work of local co-ordinators at each District Health Board (DHB) and of all the midwives, nurses and doctors across New Zealand who have entered information onto our purpose built database.  
National Co-ordinator Vicki Masson, a midwife with a special interest in high-risk pregnancies, was appointed in 2006.

“She is responsible for following up on all the missing perinatal and maternal deaths information and ensuring that the data is complete.  She supports all the local co-ordinators and acts as a first point of contact for any lead maternity carers with queries.”

The report makes seven recommendations to the Minister, five of them suggesting actions.

The report recommends improvements to perinatal pathology services, as they are an important way of establishing why a baby has died, and if the death was preventable.

“There are only four practising perinatal pathologists in New Zealand, and while we recognise there is a worldwide shortage of these professionals, we need to make sure we are making the best possible use of this resource and that there is fair access to a quality service across the whole country.

“As this is a workforce, resourcing and training issue there is no quick fix. However, the committee has organised a workshop in October, with support from the Ministry of Health, to review the current perinatal pathology services in New Zealand as a first step.”

Providing bereaved families with better support, including information, counselling and clinical follow-up if required, is one of the report’s main recommendations.

“We can all appreciate the huge grief and shock families go through when they lose a mother or baby.

“While many providers go out of their way to help families at such a sad time, our committee plans to help all providers to give support by developing resources such as leaflets to assist their work,” says Professor Cynthia Farquhar.

The Ministry of Health will look at ways to help all DHBs organise support services.


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