Stillbirths higher than road toll: Labor

FEDERAL Labor is concerned the stillbirth death rate is higher than the national road toll, but is glad to see the Morrison government is taking the recommendations of a recent parliamentary inquiry into the issue on board.

New figures show in the past two decades there has been little improvement in tackling the tragedy of stillborn deaths, which claim the lives of six babies each day.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government has agreed, or agreed in principle, to all the recommendations made by the Senate select committee on stillbirth research and eduction report.

He said the government is investing $52.4 million in perinatal services and support.

“This will help prevent, reduce and assist more than 2000 families affected by stillbirth each year,” Mr Hunt said in a statement on Thursday.

A research centre of the University of Queensland will receive $3 million in funding for a project that aims to reduce the rate of stillbirth after 28 weeks gestation by at least 20 per cent, saving the lives of 200 babies each year.

The Senate recommended adding stillbirth autopsies as a Medicare item, which the government has put to its medical advisory committee.

Mr Hunt says the government will implement whatever advice it receives.

“It is immensely important for families that are affected, but also in planning and understanding what we as a nation can do better to prevent further tragedies,” Mr Hunt told ABC radio.

A study by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has found in addition to six stillbirth deaths every day, another two babies die in the neonatal period – within the first 28 days of life.

There were 9.1 deaths per 1000 births in 2015 and 2016.

The nation’s stillbirth rate was at 6.8 per 1000 births in 2015 and 2016, with neonatal deaths occurring at a rate of 2.3 per 1000 live births.

The institute’s Fadwa Al-Yaman says those rates have remained relatively constant since 1997.

“Whilst the rates of … death of babies born to indigenous women decreased, the rate was still higher compared to babies of non-Indigenous women,” Dr Al-Yaman said.

Labor’s health spokesman Chris Bowen said the rate of death from stillbirth is higher than the national road toll.

“The truth is, there is nothing that can be done to ease the pain for those families who have gone through the trauma and are living with the grief of a stillbirth,” he said in a statement.

“We must take action now and continue to work together to prevent stillbirth so we can save babies’ lives.”

© AAP 2019