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Medical negligence expert says urgent work needed to address highest level of maternity deaths in mums for 20 years

MBRRACE-UK is a collaboration appointed by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership to run the national maternal newborn and infant clinical outcome review programmes.  As part of the programme MBRRACE-UK reports into maternal deaths with a view to making recommendations for improvements. 

On 10 January MBRRACE-UK published its latest set of data into maternal deaths in the UK. The data focuses on women who died during pregnancy or within six weeks after their pregnancy had ended between January 2020 and December 2022. 

The data will be analysed and further published as part of the Saving Lives, Improving Mothers’ Care report later this year. However, this latest set of data already provides clear evidence of worrying trends and disparities in maternal healthcare.

What the MBRRACE-UK report found

The data published by MBRRACE-UK found that the maternal death rate in 2020-2022 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 from 2017-2019. There remained a statistically significant increase in the number of maternal deaths even when maternal deaths as a result of COVID-19 were excluded. 

Maternity system under pressure as maternal death rates highest for 20 years

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.”

Leading cause of maternal death: blood clots

Thrombosis or thromboembolism is the formation of potentially fatal blood clots inside a blood vessel. MBRRACE-UK found that between 2020-2022 this was the leading cause of death for pregnant women and those who died within six weeks of their pregnancy ending. 

At Irwin Mitchell we continue to support families who have brought successful medical negligence claims relating to a maternal death caused by a fatal blood clot or existing clotting disorder such as sickle cell disease. 

I continue to see situations involving pregnant and postpartum women where the warning signs of a blood clot were not heeded, or where there was a failure to provide the woman with medication to prevent a blood clot from forming with fatal consequences.

With appropriate treatment, women with these pre-existing conditions can have safe and successful pregnancies.  It's well recognised that pregnancy itself increases the risk of thrombosis and there is national guidance available to doctors to assist with diagnosing and treating a suspected blood clot as well as how to deal with existing clotting disorders. 

Effect of ethnicity and deprivation on maternal death rates

The MBRRACE-UK data has again highlighted the effect of ethnicity and deprivation on rates of maternal death, which has been a recurring theme over the past 10 years.

There is some encouraging movement in the maternal death rate for women from black ethnic backgrounds, which has decreased slightly from the rate in 2019-2021. However, despite this, black pregnant and postpartum 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.

The MBRRACE-UK data found that 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.

Through our national network of offices, my colleagues and I see all too often the disparity in the standard of maternal health care provided to minority groups. 

The MBRRACE-UK data shows that a lot more needs to be done to tackle disparities in maternity care and to improve the maternity care for mothers in these higher risk groups.


It's particularly tragic that in situations involving maternal deaths, the families I represent include devastated loved ones, partners and widowers suddenly having to care for newborn babies and siblings, alone. 

The human cost of these numbers is impossible to measure and I've supported many families in their quest for answers.

The recently published MBRRACE-UK data shows us that the national picture remains highly concerning and it's already clear that not every mother and baby in the UK has an equal chance of a positive and safe outcome. 

Much work needs to be done to understand and urgently address the reasons for this in order to drive effective change for mothers during and following pregnancy.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting families affected by issues in maternity care at our dedicated birth injuries section. Alternatively, to speak to an expert contact us or call 0370 1500 100.