SSentif Press Release

Press Release: June 2012

BREASTFEEDING RATES HIT BY HEALTH CUTS

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Research revealed today by SSentif suggests that despite high profile campaigns to promote breastfeeding in England, new mums are becoming the latest victims of NHS cutbacks as breastfeeding drop off figures continue to rise.

Data experts, SSentif, completed a regional analysis of breastfeeding drop off rates and found that the regions that have reduced spend on maternity services and cut the number of midwives and health visitors, also have the lowest breastfeeding initiation rates and highest drop off rates.

Nationally, an average of 72% of women start to breastfeed, with more than a third stopping by 6-8 weeks. However, the research reveals the differences in drop off rates across individual PCTS ranges from 6.3% to more than 60% and, although there is shown to be some link with deprivation, cuts in maternity service funding can be clearly mapped against the lowest initiation rates and highest drop off rates.

Overall, NHS spending on maternity and reproductive health services has decreased by almost 4%, with the number of midwives dropping by 6% year-on-year and the number of health visitors decreasing at the same rate, leaving breastfeeding mothers with far less of support.

The study revealed huge variations between PCTs in England. In the West Midlands, Sandwell PCT reported a low breastfeeding initiation rate of 56.4%, well below the national average of 72%, and the country's highest percentage breastfeeding drop off rate for 2010/11 at 64.74%. In the same period, Sandwell reduced its spending on maternity and reproductive health services by almost 20%.

At the other end of the scale, Westminster PCT reported an initiation rate of 89.24% and a drop off rate of just 6.79%. Perhaps this is unsurprising as, in the same period; Westminster increased its spending on maternity services by 157.5%. Nationally, there has been little improvement, with just a 0.6% increase in initiation rates across England and no improvement in the number of mothers still breastfeeding at 6-8 weeks.

Judy Aldred, managing director of SSentif, said: "The Department for Health places huge emphasis on the importance of breastfeeding and says there is a clear case for investing in services to support breastfeeding as part of a local child health strategy. However, this seems at odds with the reduction in spending and staffing we have found. We have also noted a tremendous amount of staff upheaval as a result of the current restructuring and our data shows that nearly 50% of health visitors have had to find new positions as their organisations have disappeared. It is likely this will have impacted on the service they have been able to provide and resulted in a lack of continuity for new mothers."

Emma Pickett, breastfeeding counsellor with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers: "Those of us at the coal face of breastfeeding support will not be surprised to hear of the link between breastfeeding success and the spend on maternity services. We constantly hear from women who have just left hospital and have been shocked at the number of mothers under the care of each midwife. Or we hear of midwives and health visitors in the community unable to sit with a mother and observe a breastfeed as they are pressured to get to the next appointment. It's not rocket science: babies not breastfed are more likely to be hospitalised in the first year of life from issues like gastroenteritis and mothers and babies not supported to breastfeed get re-admitted for dehydration. That all costs money, so we'll simply pay for the under spend in the end."

PCTs in England with highest breastfeeding drop off rates

Organisation/Area Region Breast Feeding Drop Off Rate Average 10/11 Breast Feeding Initiation Rate Average Year 10/11 Spending per 100K population on Maternity and Reproductive Health (£000s) 10/11 Breast Feeding Drop Off Rate change 09/10 to 10/11 Breast Feeding Initiation Rate change 09/10 to 10/11 Spending per 100K population on Maternity and Reproductive Health change (£000s) 09/10 to 10/11
PCT SANDWELL (5PF) West Midlands 64.74 56.44 £6,197 18.76 0.92 £-1,185
PCT SOUTH WEST ESSEX (5PY) East of England 63.51 66.99 £9,211 6.67 -0.95 £1,360
PCT REDCAR & CLEVELAND (5QR) North East 62.05 53.06 £5,510 7.29 -0.48 £536
PCT HALTON & ST.HELENS (5NM) North West 60.30 48.26 £5,341 1.81 0.68 £-1,004
PCT NORTH EAST LINCOLNSHIRE CARE TRUST PLUS (5ZU) Yorkshire and Humber 59.90 55.55 £6,805 0.91 -2.27 £2,062
PCT ASHTON, LEIGH & WIGAN (5HG) North West 59.01 56.28 £5,145 -5.92 1.53 £-1,836
PCT CUMBRIA TEACHING (5NE) North West 57.55 67.73 £4,976 2.66 -0.63 £-1,832
PCT BLACKPOOL (5HP) North West 56.52 56.78 £4,585 -5.69 -3.12 £-329
PCT STOCKTON-ON-TEES TEACHING (5E1) North East 56.43 57.95 £5,465 2.69 1.97 £-2,965
PCT DONCASTER (5N5) Yorkshire and Humber 55.80 67.17 £5,097 0.74 -0.87 £-1,554
England Averages 39.61 72.07 £6,974 0.00 -0.60 £-263

 

NOTES TO EDITORS:

The data analysed by SSentif was for the period April 2009-2010 and 2010 - 2011. (Data Sources - Breast feeding Statistics - Department of Health, NHS workforce statistics - Information centre for Health and Social Care and Deprivation - Office of National Statistics.)

Breastfeeding drop off rate is calculated as follows: Percentage of mothers initiating breastfeeding MINUS Percentage of infants being breastfed at 6-8 weeks DIVIDED by Percentage of mothers initiating breastfeeding MULTIPLIED by 100.

All breastfeeding data has been averaged across 4 quarters to give annual figures.

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