England has the poorest safety record for infant mortality of almost any other developed country. Is Scotland’s any better?

‘7 out of 1000 are stillborn or die soon after’ (BBC News, 1pm 17.10.16)

That’s the figure from a TV broadcast which was primarily about the launch of a new compensation scheme for parents. Here’s some more detail from the website:

‘The Health Secretary (Hunt) has set a target of halving stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2030. At present, for every 1,000 births in England, more than seven babies are either born dead or die soon afterwards, giving it one of the worst records of any developed country. He said the UK could learn best practice from countries like Sweden, which has halved its rate of avoidable birth injuries in recent years.’

Note that Hunt’s casual conflation of England with the UK? What is the situation in Scotland, I wondered? I’ll come to that but first, isn’t it interesting to look at how Hunt planned to deal with the problem. It cost the NHS in England £500 million last year to ‘resolve legal disputes’ but Hunt has set aside only £8 million for training and only one quarter of million to pilot new ideas. If it costs so much for compensation why not invest far more to try and reduce that?

So, the Scottish figures are? Try googling for that and be rewarded with contact details for no end of ‘ambulance-chasing lawyers! I did find, courtesy of the Sun newspaper:

‘Botched births shocker: Scots NHS in £25m bill for baby deaths and injuries’

 A quick calculation tells you that the level of compensation pay-outs, per head of population, in Scotland is only just over half of that in England. Scotland’s population of just over 5 million is around one tenth of England’s population of 53 million so you’d expect our total to be around one tenth of the English figure or roughly £50 million. I know there will be other factors involved such as Scots being less likely to claim or Scots judges being stingier with the awards or something else. However, I can’t see any of those factors meaning that it isn’t just because the Scottish NHS actually has fewer cases per capita of stillbirth or injury at birth.

After much searching I can’t find the report, on which the above 7 in every 1000, is based nor can I find equivalent Scottish figures.  So, here are the figures for stillbirth only from Quality Watch using Office for National statistics data:

‘The infant mortality rate for the UK and each country in the UK has been steadily decreasing since 1960  All countries have followed a similar trend, with Scotland having the lowest rate of 3.3 in 2013; Northern Ireland with 3.5 in 2012; Wales with 3.6 in 2013 and England with 3.9 in 2014.’

Did BBC Scotland report that, I wonder?

So, we can say with certainty that the stillbirth rate is lower in Scotland than it is in England. Remember, 0.6% of a difference between data as small as 3.3 and 3.9 is not trivial. There’s not much scope there for improvement in figures that are very low, globally and historically. However, does that strike you as odd? Isn’t Scotland ‘The sick man of the UK?’ According to the Glasgow Centre for Population History and the University of the West of Scotland, he most definitely still is. See this:

‘Scotland experiences high levels of ‘excess’ mortality: that is, higher mortality over and above that explained by the country’s socioeconomic profile. Compared with England & Wales, and adjusting for differences in poverty and deprivation (the main causes of poor health in any society), 5,000 more people die every year in Scotland than should be the case.

So these stillbirth figures are  kind of against the odds aren’t they? Something must be compensating for that bad start in life. What could it be? Do we have a better NHS? Is better managed? Is it being protected from the damage being done in England by this Tory government and its coalition predecessor? Is this a case of SNP gooood?

Here’s an idea. What if, kind of obviously, England is short of midwives and we’re not? See this from the Royal College of Midwives in England (RCM):

With a shortage of 3500 midwives in England, a historically high birthrate and increasingly complex births, she said there is a lot of strain on services.’

 Don’t get too comfortable now. See this from the RCM in Scotland:

The Royal College of Midwives has warned that Scotland is facing a retirement “time bomb”. About 40% of midwives are now in their 50s and 60s, compared with 30% only four years ago.

See? Well actually, if you read a wee bit further, you get:

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said services were not currently under threat, but may not be safe in future. The Scottish government said Scotland had the recommended midwife numbers and it would continue to ensure the right numbers of midwives were training.

So, that would be a….non-story then? If Scotland had its share of the midwife shortage, that would be 350! Imagine the headline on BBC Scotland for that!

‘There is a major crisis in our maternity wards! Ruth Davidson condemns SNP Scottish Government’s shameful failure to protect vulnerable pregnant mothers!’

Is this actually just another of many indicators of the relative good health of NHS Scotland and credit to the SNP government?  If it wasn’t you can be sure they’d get the blame. For more evidence on this, see:









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