Higher mortality risk among babies born at weekends

Royal College of Midwives echoes calls for further research after study reveals slightly higher mortality risk at weekends

Researchers from Imperial College London examined the association between day of delivery and obstetric outcomes in 1.3 million births in NHS hospitals in England between April 1 2010 and March 31 2012. 

They found the perinatal mortality rate was 7.3 per 1,000 babies at weekends, 0.9 per 1,000 higher than for weekdays. 

The observational study, published in the BMJ, highlights a link between day of delivery and aspects of performance, estimating that there are 770 more deaths of newborns, and 470 more maternal infections per year at the weekend than would occur if performance was consistent across the week.

However, the study did not draw definitive conclusions on why these effects occur and could not find a link with staffing levels. It also noted that there was no available data to investigate the effect of midwifery staffing levels by day of the week.

Royal College of Midwives director for midwifery Louise Silverton said that midwifery and maternity staffing levels are the same on weekends as they are on weekdays. ‘Midwives work across 24 hours, 365 days per year,’ she said. 

‘The authors of this report have stressed this study is just an observational study and that no definite conclusions can be drawn about the cause and effect of weekend deaths.’

However, she agreed with the study’s conclusion that a greater understanding of the problem was needed.

‘We need to make sure that we identify the ‘possible causes’ so we can continue to ensure women receive the best possible care for both them and their baby,’ she said.

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