The investigation, which is led by Oxford Population Health’s National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit, includes data on all women who died during pregnancy or within six weeks after their pregnancy had ended in the UK between January 2020 and December 2022. The data have been published ahead of the full Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care report, which will be published later this year.
The key data show that:
• The maternal death rate in 2020-22 was 13.41 deaths per 100,000 maternities. This is significantly higher than the maternal death rate of 8.79 deaths per 100,000 maternities reported in the previous complete three year period (2017-19);
• Even when deaths as a result of COVID-19 are excluded, the maternal death rate for 2020-22 (11.54 deaths per 100,000 maternities) remains higher than the rate for 2017-19;
• Thrombosis and thromboembolism was the leading cause of death in women who died during pregnancy or within six weeks of their pregnancy ending. COVID-19 was the second most common cause of death, followed by heart disease and mental-health related causes;
• The maternal death rate for women from Black ethnic backgrounds has decreased slightly from the rate in 2019-21 but Black women remain three times more likely to die compared to White women. The maternal death rate for women from Asian ethnic backgrounds remains two times higher than that of White women;
• Women living in the most deprived areas still have a maternal death rate more than twice that of women living in the least deprived areas.
Professor Marian Knight, Director of the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit and MBRRACE-UK maternal reporting lead, said: 'These data show that the UK maternal death rate has returned to levels that we have not seen for the past 20 years. The 2023 MBRRACE-UK maternal confidential enquiry report identified clear examples of maternity systems under pressure and this increase in maternal mortality raises further concern. Ensuring pre-pregnancy health, including tackling conditions such as overweight and obesity, as well as critical actions to work towards more inclusive and personalised care, need to be prioritised as a matter of urgency now more than ever.’
Dr Nicola Vousden, Co-Chair of the Faculty of Public Health Women’s Health Specialist Interest Group, said: ‘Persisting inequalities by ethnicity and socioeconomic status indicate that we must think beyond maternity care to address the underlying structures that impact health before, during and after pregnancy, such as housing, education and access to healthy environments.’
The data brief, including charts that show the increase in maternal deaths since 2003-05, is published on the MBRRACE-UK website.