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Perinatal Mortality

Volume 33: debated on Tuesday 30 November 1982

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services if he will take steps to publicise the regional breakdown of the perinatal mortality rates for 1981 in England and Wales when they are available.

The Under-Secretary of State for Health and Social Security
(Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg)

The figures the hon. Gentleman refers to were published last week. They show that regional differences persist, but there has been a remarkable overall improvement. Five years ago, only one English region had less than 14 perinatal deaths per thousand births. Now, every region is below this figure, and the two best regions are below 10 per thousand—a figure which bears comparison with any country in Europe. This achievement reflects great credit on all the health professionals whose sustained efforts have helped to bring it about.

I welcome that improvement. Does the Minister recognise that it is still sad that even now babies at risk cannot be taken into intensive care units? What action does he propose to take? Does he accept the findings of the Select Committee and the observation of the Spastics Society that in the event of a young baby's death an intensive and careful post mortem could reveal the causes and might further reduce perinatal death and handicap rates?

The hon. Gentleman will be well aware that we appointed the Maternity Services Advisory Committee to advise us on all aspects of this important matter. We look forward to receiving its reports from time to time and to reporting our conclusions to the House.

I am a member of that Select Committee. We welcome the improvement in the perinatal and neonatal mortality rates and hope that they will continue, but does my hon. Friend agree that closing down the maternity units in cottage hospitals such as the Congleton war memorial hospital is not a way of further improving those figures? Is he aware that that hospital is in an area of growing population and that the regional health authority and the district health authority should be considering upgrading those wards rather than closing them and reducing services?

If my hon. Friend cares to write to me about that case, I shall examine it. He is well aware that responsibility lies with regional health authorities to order their priorities in these matters.

Does the Minister agree that smoking by pregnant women is one of the most frequent causes of perinatal mortality? When will the Government do something about the problem, rather than expect the tobacco industry to discourage the sale of cigarettes, at the expense of its own profits?

The hon. Gentleman confuses the issue. Every Minister has made it clear that smoking puts people at risk. Unlike the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported, we have made a dramatic increase in the size of the health warning on the cigarette packet and obtained £11 million for research into health matters.