Maternal Deaths in Ireland - New Data Published
Ireland’s rate of maternal deaths has risen in recent years. For some, this is a rebuke to pro-life people who, for years, could point to Ireland’s exceptionally low rate of maternal mortality as evidence that you don’t need abortion to ensure that expectant mothers receive the highest standards of healthcare and that, at the very least, women’s lives were not endangered by the absence of abortion in Ireland.
While the rise in the maternal death rate is, or course, cause for concern, there are a couple of things to note.
First, and most importantly, Ireland’s maternal mortality rate is still impressively low. At 8 per 100,000 live births for 2015 (based on data from the World Health Organization) it compares well with other EU states. It is still lower than the UK’s (9) and the USA’s (14).
The way the data is collected has recently changed to include deaths that the Central Statistics Office had not been classfying as maternal. These were indirect maternal deaths which were due to pre-existing conditions exacerbated by pregnancy.
The Confidential Maternal Death Enquiry, based at the National Perinatal Epidemiology Centre in University College Cork, employs more robust criteria than the CSO and so identifies maternal deaths that had previously been missed from the statistics. Since indirect maternal deaths are counted in other countries, it provides a more reliable basis for comparison if they are counted for Ireland. (Although the quality of data can still vary quite significantly among different countries).
The Maternal Death Enquiry recently published its latest report, covering the years 2012-2014. For those three years, the Enquiry identified 22 maternal deaths during or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy. 20 of these were direct or indirect maternal deaths. Out of 204,999 maternities, this gives a maternal mortality rate of 9.8. This is not statistically significantly different from the rate in the UK.
So there has been a worrying increase in the rate of maternal mortality in Ireland in recent years. No specific cause has been identified, but several considerations may be relevant.
Ireland’s maternity services have been hugely overstretched through the austerity years. The three big maternity hospitals in Dublin (including the largest maternity hospital in Europe) have faced well-documented challenges facing huge levels of demand. In that sense, it is remarkable that the maternal mortality rate has not been higher.
The maternal mortality rate is disproportionately high among non-Irish-born mothers. The reason for this is unclear, but given the growing number of such mothers it is to be expected that this would impact negatively on the overall rate.
The average age women giving birth has been rising. This is a factor that increases the risk, and the Maternal Death Enquiry has indicated that there is a suggestion of an increasing maternal mortality rate among mothers over the age of 30, compared to younger women.
Maternal Death Enquiry Ireland. December. Family & Life. January 10.