4 Maternal and perinatal mortality audits

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4-1 What is an audit?

An audit is a thorough assessment, count or evaluation of a situation. In an audit information is systematically collected and then presented in a manner that can be understood.

An audit is a careful assessment of a situation.

4-2 Why conduct an audit of health care?

With a health audit it is possible to identify problems and then make plans to find solutions. It is the best way to find out what is happening in a clinical service and why problems are occurring. If you do not know where the problems lie, it is very unlikely that you will able to solve the problems. You may not even know that there is a problem. With a clear idea of the type and extent of a problem, steps can be taken to prevent or correct the problem.

Therefore, by auditing a health service one can get a clear idea of where problems lie. This will usually point one in the direction where solutions can be found. However, an audit alone does not solve the problems. To do this requires effort and commitment.

An audit is often the best method of identifying problems.

4-3 What is a mortality audit?

This is an audit of people who die. Death is a very definite end point for an investigation into health care. However if the number of deaths can be reduced, the care of all mothers and infants who survive will also improve. A mortality audit therefore benefits many living people and reduces morbidity in the survivors.

A maternal mortality audit looks at the number and causes of maternal deaths. Only women who die between conception and 6 weeks after delivery are included in a maternal mortality audit.

A perinatal mortality audit looks at stillbirths and early neonatal deaths. A stillbirth is an infant born dead and weighing 500 g or more. An early neonatal death is a death occurring in an infant during the first week of life.

By decreasing the number of mothers and infants dying, the care of all mothers and infants will be improved.

4-4 Where and when is a mortality audit of a health care service carried out?

Usually an assessment of a health care service is done within a carefully defined area over a particular period of time. It is best if a mortality audit is done in a whole health region over a one year period. This would include all the clinics and hospitals in that region. However, an audit can be made of a single clinic or hospital or a single hospital together with the attached clinics.

4-5 Who conducts a mortality audit?

The responsibility for conducting an audit lies with the authority responsible for providing the service. However, everyone working in that service should be interested and involved in finding out where problems lie and in helping to find answers to those problems.

4-6 How is a mortality audit done?

  1. The necessary information (data) must be collected.
  2. The information must be analysed.
  3. The information must be discussed and conclusions drawn.
  4. Plans must be made to correct any problems which may have been detected.
  5. A summary or report must be written.

4-7 What is a morbidity audit?

Morbidity is all the problems and illnesses which are not severe enough to cause death. Morbidity is more common than mortality, but the causes usually are the same. If mortality can be reduced, morbidity will also be less. It is important not to forget morbidity. Often morbidity can also be assessed as part of a mortality audit.

4-8 What is a maternal care audit?

This is an investigation to identify and solve problems which occur in providing care for pregnant women. A maternal care audit would include many aspects of maternal care, other than just deaths, such as the number of women who:

  1. Receive antenatal care.
  2. Deliver by various methods.
  3. Have problems during pregnancy, delivery and the puerperium.

Once this information is collected and analysed, answers can be found to problems with maternal care.

4-9 What is a perinatal care audit?

This is an audit of care given to the fetus and newborn infant. Perinatal means before, during and after birth. A perinatal care audit would include many aspects of perinatal care, such as the number of:

  1. Infants born alive.
  2. Males and females.
  3. Infants in different birth weight categories.
  4. Deaths and the causes of these deaths.
  5. Avoidable factors which may be associated with these deaths.

Once this information is collected and analysed, answers can be found to problems with perinatal care.

4-10 Can maternal and perinatal mortality audits be combined?

Yes. Maternal and perinatal care audits are often considered together as both reflect the standard of perinatal care. In practice, maternal and perinatal audits are done in the form of perinatal mortality meetings. However perinatal mortality audits are mainly about perinatal deaths as these are far more frequent than maternal deaths (about 25 perinatal to each maternal death in South Africa).

Perinatal mortality meetings

4-11 What is a perinatal mortality meeting?

This is a meeting to discuss all the aspects of recent stillbirths and neonatal deaths. It is a meeting where the extent of the problem is identified, causes and avoidable factors are looked for and likely answers are hopefully found. Studying deaths will give an idea of the major problems in the care of mothers and infants in the area. Regular meetings provide motivation for data collection and are associated with a fall in mortality rates. A perinatal mortality meeting is one of the most effective methods of conducting a maternal and perinatal audit.

Regular perinatal mortality meetings can reduce both the maternal and perinatal mortality rates.

Regular mortality meetings are an excellent method of improving the standard of perinatal care and are a very effective way of teaching health care workers how to prevent maternal and perinatal deaths. They also provide an opportunity to acknowledge good care and management. Perinatal mortality meetings are essential in any perinatal service.

Regular perinatal mortality meetings are a very effective method of identifying and solving many perinatal problems.

4-12 Who should attend a perinatal mortality meeting?

If possible, all the staff, including doctors and nurses, who work in that service (hospital or clinic or a group of hospitals and clinics). Unfortunately, some staff on duty and most of the staff off duty will not be able to attend. The findings of the perinatal mortality meeting should be made known to all staff.

4-13 Who should arrange perinatal mortality meetings?

As perinatal mortality meetings are an integral part of a clinical service, the person in charge of the service or facility is responsible for the meetings. In practice, it is usually a senior doctor who arranges the perinatal mortality meetings. This is commonly an obstetrician or obstetric medical officer. However, it is important that a senior midwife and doctor involved with care of mothers and their infants are closely involved in arranging and managing the meetings. In a large hospital both an obstetrician and paediatrician, and sometimes a midwife, should jointly be responsible.

4-14 How is a perinatal mortality meeting arranged?

All the staff should be informed about the nature, importance and benefits of a perinatal mortality meeting. They should then be invited by the person arranging the meeting. The most suitable time and venue should be decided upon after discussion with as many of the staff as possible. Usually a waiting room, lecture room or boardroom is most suitable. The most convenient time is often over lunch or in the late afternoon. Each service should agree on a time and venue where most staff can attend. The venue must be booked. Permission from the local health authorities may be needed.

4-15 How often should perinatal mortality meetings be held?

In big services with deaths every few days, perinatal mortality meetings are best held every week. In smaller hospitals and clinics with fewer deaths, meetings are usually held once a month. With weekly meetings, it is easier for the staff to remember the details of the patient’s problem and management.

4-16 What information should be collected for a perinatal mortality meeting?

In addition to discussing any perinatal deaths, a perinatal mortality meeting is often used to review the delivery data since the last meeting. Therefore, usually two sets of information are discussed. Firstly the minimal data set collected from the labour ward register (basic delivery information) is presented and discussed, and secondly any perinatal deaths are reviewed.

The minimal data set usually presented includes:

  1. Number of normal, assisted and Caesarean deliveries.
  2. Number of maternal deaths, if any.
  3. Number of live born infants, stillbirths and early neonatal deaths.
  4. The mortality rates.
Often the number of major complications during labour and delivery (abruptions, post partum bleeds, eclampsia, etc) and reasons for Caesarean section (fetal distress, obstructed labour, failed induction, etc) are also presented.

4-17 How should a perinatal death be presented?

  1. The clinical record must be carefully summarised.
  2. The presentation and summary must be anonymous - all references to a patient’s name or hospital number must be removed. When copies of clinical notes are used in presentations, names of the health care providers must also be covered.
  3. The summary is presented at the meeting.
  4. Any points of uncertainly are clarified.
  5. Each death is then discussed.

4-18 How are the deaths discussed at a perinatal mortality meeting?

  1. The primary cause of all perinatal deaths and final cause of early neonatal deaths should be identified.
  2. Any avoidable factors, missed opportunities or substandard care should be identified and discussed. Could the death have been prevented?
  3. A management plan must be discussed and agreed upon which could prevent a similar death in the future.

All participants of the meeting should together identify the problems and find the best answers.

4-19 Why are good patient notes important?

When assessing the causes and avoidable factors in a perinatal death, it is essential that detailed, accurate maternal and newborn notes are kept. It is always important to keep good notes. The labour chart (partogram) and details of attempts to resuscitate the infant are particularly important. Cardiotocograms (CTGs) must not be discarded or lost, as they are an essential part of the notes.

4-20 In summary, what are the steps in managing a perinatal mortality meeting?

  1. A time and venue must be agreed upon and the venue booked.
  2. All relevant staff should be invited and every effort made to ensure that they attend.
  3. A chairperson must be chosen to lead the meeting.
  4. All the stillbirths and early neonatal deaths (and maternal deaths if any) must be identified.
  5. Someone must be responsible for preparing and presenting the cases.
  6. The clinical records of patients who have died must be found, read and summarised.
  7. Summaries of the cases must be prepared for the meeting. They may be written or typed out with a copy handed to each participant or presented with an overhead projector.
  8. It is best to use a standard form to present the summary of each case.
  9. The minimal data set is presented and discussed.
  10. The deaths are discussed after any errors in the summary are corrected.
  11. A summary or record should be kept of the cases discussed and the conclusions agreed upon.
  12. It is important to discuss the problem and not the staff involved.

Note that any maternal deaths are usually discussed at a perinatal mortality meeting rather than holding separate meetings to discuss only maternal deaths.

4-21 What problems may occur with perinatal mortality meetings?

  1. Some staff involved in particular cases cannot attend.
  2. Individual staff may feel threatened if problems of management are discussed.
  3. Problems of confidentiality may occur.
  4. It can become a witch hunt to find the staff who made a mistake.
  5. Patient notes cannot be found or are incomplete.
  6. The cases and data are not prepared properly.
  7. Lessons learned are not used to improve care.
  8. A summary is not written.

4-22 Is confidentiality important in a perinatal mortality meeting?

The content and discussion at the meeting should be confidential. The identity of the patient as well as the health care worker(s) involved should be withheld at the meeting. Any handouts used in the meeting are usually destroyed at the end of the meeting.

4-23 Should morbidity also be discussed at a mortality meeting?

It is very useful to discuss a few seriously ill patients who survived (morbidity), i.e. a ‘near miss’, as a lot can be learned from these examples. A ‘near miss’ is a case where the patient was very ill and nearly died. It helps to discuss ‘near misses’ when there are only a few deaths to discuss at a mortality meeting. Infants who have survived severe intrapartum hypoxia (fetal distress) are particularly useful to discuss as ‘near misses’.

4-24 At which perinatal mortality meeting should referred patients be discussed?

All patients who die at a hospital or clinic must be included. However, if a mother or child is referred from a clinic or hospital and dies at another, that death should also be discussed at the clinic or hospital who referred the patient. Often the cause and avoidable factors took place before referral.

Stillbirths are usually recorded at the hospital where they deliver but early neonatal deaths should be counted together with the deaths at the clinic or hospital where the infant was born rather than where it died. For example, if an infant is born at a clinic and then is referred to a hospital where it dies, the death should be discussed both at the clinic and hospital but the death should be listed with the clinic deaths.

4-25 Should all perinatal deaths be discussed?

It is important that the number of deaths be presented and the causes and avoidable factors in all deaths agreed upon. However, if there are many deaths, there is often not enough time to discuss each in detail. Deaths with obviously avoidable factors must be discussed. Deaths where important lessons can be learned must also be included.

4-26 What is a ‘great save’?

This is when a good diagnosis was made and good care prevented a maternal or perinatal death. As perinatal mortality meetings can become very depressing, it is helpful to mention a few ‘great saves’ as part of the meeting to emphasise the good care that was given.

4-27 Is a perinatal mortality meeting a good opportunity for teaching and learning?

It is a wonderful opportunity and excellent method of teaching and learning. When the cases are presented, the participants at the meeting should identify problems and errors in the management. They should also suggest what should have been done to avoid the problem or manage the problem better. Learning from ones’ mistakes is very effective.

Using case histories from previous perinatal mortality meetings are often used to teach students in the classroom.

Attending perinatal mortality meetings is an excellent way of learning how best to care for mothers and infants.

Perinatal mortality reports

4-28 What is a perinatal mortality report?

A perinatal mortality report provides a summary of all the deliveries and the circumstances associated with each perinatal death. The number of deaths, the frequency of each cause of death, and the number of each avoidable factor give an excellent idea of the problems in the service. This in turn indicates where changes and improvements are needed. Without this information it is very difficult to improve the standard of care. The report must give clear indications of the changes that are needed.

A perinatal mortality meeting is the ideal time to record the most likely cause of each death and any avoidable factors which may have prevented the death. This very important information must be recorded at each mortality meeting and a summary written so that the mortality report can be prepared. Usually an annual report is written although reports may be needed more frequently. The report should be made available to all members of the staff, especially the management.

Perinatal mortality meetings are only of limited value if a report is not prepared, as action to improve specific aspects of care are usually based on the recommendation in the report.

Regular reports must be prepared, based on the findings in the perinatal mortality meetings.

4-29 How is a perinatal mortality report prepared?

A special form must be used to record the main findings for each perinatal death discussed at a mortality meeting. This information is then used to compile a summary of deaths. The form should detail:

  1. The patient’s hospital number together with a summary of the relevant history, examination and investigations as well as the course of events.
  2. After discussion the primary cause of each perinatal death should be recorded (together with the PPIP code).
  3. Again, after discussion the final cause of each early neonatal death should be recorded (together with the PPIP code).
  4. Any avoidable factors should be recorded

A very useful method of summarising all the information collected from mortality meetings is the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme (PPIP). Whenever possible, the PPIP code should be added to the primary and final cause of death as well as any probably or possibly avoidable factor.

The data collection sheet used at perinatal mortality meetings looks like the data entry screen of PPIP. This makes the transfer of data from the perinatal mortality data sheet to PPIP a very simple task.

Perinatal problem identification programme (PPIP)

4-30 What is the perinatal problem identification programme?

The Perinatal Problem Identification Programme (PPIP) is a simple, user-friendly computer-based programme which presents a summary of the problems related to maternal and perinatal deaths. PPIP aims to reduce perinatal mortality. Once the basic perinatal data is entered, PIPP calculates and provides the following:

  1. Perinatal care indices (e.g. stillbirth, early neonatal death and perinatal death rates).
  2. Avoidable factors.
  3. Low birth weight rate.
  4. Weight specific perinatal mortality rates.
  5. Perinatal care index.
  6. Stillbirth: early neonatal death rate.
  7. Outcome by birth weight category.

Once the information, which has been discussed at the perinatal mortality meetings, has been entered, PPIP produces a summary which reports what has happened over a period of time. However, PPIP is only a diagnostic tool which identifies the number of perinatal, neonatal and maternal deaths, classifies the causes of death and analyses avoidable factors. It helps to point the way to finding solutions to clinical problems but, by itself, it cannot improve the standard of patient care. This has to be done by the health workers themselves.

Note that maternal deaths can also be entered as PPIP data. Then they can be analysed in the same way as perinatal deaths.

PPIP was developed in the 1990s in South Africa by the Medical Research Council (MRC) Unit for Maternal and Infant Health Care Strategies and has been extensively tested since 1996. It is based on the ICA Solution audit system (Identification of all deliveries and deaths/ Cause of deaths/ Avoidable factors/ Solution). It is similar to the Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths in Infancy (CESDI) used in the United Kingdom.

4-31 How is the data entered onto the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme?

The data is collected from the minimal data set in labour ward and the data sheets completed at each perinatal mortality meeting. This data is then entered onto the data section of PPIP. The space for each piece of data is clearly indicated by the headings. Once the data has been entered, PPIP automatically calculates all the results. If there are errors or missing data, PPIP will indicate this to you. The results can be displayed as numbers on the screen, printed or presented as graphics. Entering data onto PPIP is quick and easy.

4-32 What are the goals of the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme?

  1. To identify the perinatal mortality rates.
  2. To determine the causes of perinatal deaths in order to establish the pattern of disease.
  3. To look for avoidable factors by examining each death.
  4. To seek solutions.

4-33 Why is it important to establish the pattern of disease?

The pattern of disease will indicate what the major causes of death are. Similarly it is important to establish the pattern of avoidable factors. This information should be used to:

  1. Plan what management is needed most urgently.
  2. Decide on the best allocation of funding and resources.
  3. Direct research to answer the most important problems.

Therefore, once the pattern of disease and avoidable factors are known, the most effective way to reduce mortality can be sought.

4-34 What is a feedback meeting?

Knowing the cause of death and identifying probable avoidable factors does not, by itself, prevent a similar death occurring in future. It does, however, help to plan ways to improve maternal and perinatal care. The information provided by mortality meetings and PPIP must now be given to the staff and community by way of feedback meetings. These meetings are an essential part of the programme to improve care through learning how to better manage mothers and infants.

Feedback meetings make a difference because they empower health workers to review their management of patients and to re-evaluate their management protocols. Simply knowing that your care is being monitored and reviewed and that you are accountable to your patients will improve care.

Feedback to health workers is an essential part of improving service.

4-35 How are the data gathering sites grouped?

If all the data from one or more perinatal services are entered, PPIP can separate the results into individual sites (e.g. clinics or hospital) or pool the data into services, districts, towns, rural areas or even provinces or nationally.

The perinatal data is divided into the following sites:

  1. Metropolitan with access to tertiary care (intensive care).
  2. Cities and towns with access to secondary (level 2) care.
  3. Rural areas where mainly primary (level 1) care is available.

Perinatal information can also be sorted by province. Once information has been collected for a few years, changes over time can be investigated to show improving or deteriorating care.

4-36 What problems remain with the use of the perinatal problem identification programme in South Africa?

  1. Data are still incomplete and inaccurate from some provinces.
  2. Most of the information is being collected in cities and towns with few reports from rural areas.
  3. No information is available from the large numbers of poor mothers who deliver without skilled assistance at home.
  4. Only limited data are available from private hospitals.
  5. Most of the information is not population based, i.e. it does not include all the deliveries in the area.
  6. Data is collected from the site of delivery only and not the place of residence.

As a result, it is not exactly known how many infants are delivered annually in South Africa. The recorded births are just below a million per year. As the number of sites providing perinatal data increases, a more accurate estimate of both maternal and perinatal deaths will be made. This information is vital for rational planning.

4-37 How do results compare between different areas?

The perinatal mortality results vary widely between sites indicating that socioeconomic conditions and the standard of health care are very different. Data from the saving babies’ reports show the following:

  1. In rural sites intrapartum hypoxia is a common primary cause of perinatal death indicating poor labour management and probably inadequate facilities for Caesarean section and infant resuscitation.
  2. In towns and cities spontaneous preterm delivery is a common identifiable primary cause of perinatal death suggesting that facilities for neonatal care are inadequate. Many of these mothers may have been referred from rural areas because of preterm labour. There are also many infants where the cause of death is unknown suggesting that the infants and their placentas were not carefully examined for signs of syphilis and poor fetal growth.
  3. In metropolitan areas antepartum haemorrhage and hypertensive disorders are important, suggesting that these mothers was been referred from rural areas and towns and cities. Deaths due to intrapartum hypoxia are much lower in metropolitan areas than towns and cities and rural areas suggesting better labour and neonatal care.

As would be expected, a common final cause of neonatal death in rural areas is perinatal hypoxia while that in cities, towns and metropolitan areas is prematurity related.

Because perinatal information is collected at the place of delivery rather than the home address, referral patterns can bias the results.

4-38 What are the Saving Babies report?

The Saving Babies reports presents the results of annual meetings which were started in 2000 to collate PIPP data and identify major areas of concern from sites all over South Africa. The findings and possible solutions offered are presented in Saving Babies reports. The latest report covers the period 2014-2016. The information on causes of death and avoidable factors are divided into results for large metropolitan areas (where tertiary care is available), cities and towns (where secondary care is available) and rural areas (where only primary care is available).

The findings of the Saving Babies reports’ stress the high perinatal mortality rates and high rates of low birth weight infants in many areas.

All the Saving Babies reports can be accessed at www.ppip.co.za

Case study 1

The first perinatal mortality meeting is arranged in a new hospital in order to audit the service. Only the doctors working in the labour ward are invited and it is decided to discuss stillbirths but not neonatal deaths. Soon after the meeting starts, an argument breaks out over the management of a patient. As the patient’s record is not available at the meeting, no one is certain what treatment was given. The meeting ends early as most of the doctors feel that it is a waste of their time.

1. What is an audit?

This is a careful review, evaluation or assessment of the perinatal service at the hospital. What patients have been delivered, how they were delivered, what deaths occurred, why did the patients die and could these deaths be avoided?

2. Who should be invited to a perinatal mortality meeting?

All the staff (nurses and doctors) who work in that service. In a hospital the nurses and doctors working in labour ward, antenatal and postnatal wards and the newborn nursery should be invited.

3. Should only stillbirths be discussed?

No. It is important that both stillbirths and neonatal deaths are discussed.

4. How can you prevent one staff member accusing another of poor care?

It is important that the discussion should be about the care of the patient and not who was responsible for any incorrect care. Disciplining of staff, if it becomes necessary, must be done privately and never at a perinatal mortality meeting.

5. What is the aim of a perinatal mortality meeting?

It is a meeting where management problems are identified and avoidable factors looked for. The aim is to prevent similar problems in other patients and, thereby, improve the standard of care.

6. Should maternal deaths also be discussed at a perinatal mortality meeting?

Yes. All maternal deaths and perinatal deaths (stillbirths and early neonatal deaths) should be discussed. Although the meetings are commonly called perinatal mortality meetings, they are in fact combined maternal and perinatal mortality meetings. Fortunately, maternal deaths are far less common than perinatal deaths, therefore perinatal meetings are mostly about perinatal deaths.

7. Why should the patient’s notes be taken to the meeting?

It is important to have a record of management to avoid any uncertainty. A brief anonymous summary of the patient record should be made before the meeting and made available to all who attend. In this way, the management given is clear to all the participants.

Case study 2

A monthly perinatal mortality meeting is arranged at a busy urban clinic. At the meeting the cause of each death was looked for. However, avoidable factors were not discussed as some of the nurses felt threatened. It was decided that infants who were referred to hospital and died there need not be discussed. If there were no deaths during the month, the meeting was usually cancelled.

1. How often should a perinatal meeting be held?

It depends on the number and frequency of perinatal deaths. Most clinics and smaller hospitals hold monthly meetings. If the meetings are held less frequently, the staff often cannot remember the cases. In larger hospitals it is best to have a mortality meeting every week.

2. Why is it important to look for avoidable factors?

Because this is the best way of preventing similar deaths in future. Avoidable factors, missed opportunities and substandard care must be identified whenever possible. This the best way of learning how not to make mistakes.

3. Should the name of the staff member who cared for a patient be made known?

Never mention the names of the staff involved. The aim is to find the cause of death and any avoidable factors and not to hold a ‘witch hunt’. Otherwise the staff will not attend the meeting or co-operate. It is not the aim of the meeting to discipline health care workers or to name-and-shame them. If there is a need for corrective counselling or skills training of a specific health care worker, this can be done at an individual level at a separate event.

4. Should an infant who is born at a clinic, but dies after transfer to hospital, be discussed?

All infants who are born at a clinic or hospital but die after referral must be discussed at the clinic perinatal mortality meeting as the cause of the death and avoidable factors can often be found in the management before transfer. These infants are counted with the clinic deaths. Usually they are also discussed at the hospital perinatal mortality meeting but their deaths are not counted with the hospital deaths.

5. Should the meeting be cancelled if no deaths have occurred?

It is important to hold regular meetings even if there are no deaths to discuss. Interesting problems, sick patients who survived (morbidity) or ‘great saves’ can also be discussed. It is important to review all the referred infants and the delivery data since the last meeting.

6. Is there time to teach at a perinatal mortality meeting?

Just attending the meeting should be a learning experience, especially if the participants can jointly spot the clinical problems and management errors. All the staff can learn from the discussion. The meeting can be an opportunity for teaching, especially if there are topics which staff want to learn about.

Case study 3

During a perinatal mortality meeting the causes of death and avoidable factors are carefully recorded and entered onto the PPIP data sheets. The staff are told they will receive a summary of the PPIP data at a feedback meeting.

1. What does ‘PPIP’ stand for?

PPIP stands for the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme. This is a simple, user-friendly computer-based system where the important maternal and perinatal data are entered and calculations, such as the perinatal mortality rate, avoidable factors and low birth weight rate are given. PPIP identifies the number of perinatal deaths, classifies the causes and analyses avoidable factors.

2. What is the aim of PPIP?

To lower the perinatal mortality rate. PIPP helps nurses and doctors find solutions to perinatal problems.

3. Can any clinic or hospital use PPIP?

Yes. Any clinic or hospital that delivers mothers and cares for their infants should use PPIP. It is easy to learn how to enter data with PPIP.

4. What is a feedback meeting?

The findings of the perinatal mortality meetings and the analyses made by PPIP must be made available to all the staff at a feedback meeting. Regular feedback to the staff should form part of the perinatal mortality meetings. Annually, or more frequently, a special feedback meeting should be arranged to review the service.

Case study 4

At a monthly mortality meeting the number of vaginal, assisted and Caesarean deliveries is reported. In addition the indications for the Caesarean sections are given together with the number of serious complications such as placental abruptions. One maternal death due to eclampsia, 6 stillbirths and 2 early neonatal deaths are presented. One stillbirth was due to untreated syphilis, 2 due to fetal hypoxia during labour and the remaining 3 were macerated with no obvious cause. The 2 neonatal deaths were very immature infants weighing less than 1000 g.

1. Why is it important to present the number of deliveries at a perinatal mortality meeting?

Because it is important to review the workload and the method of deliveries. Too many or too few Caesarean sections may indicate that the incorrect method of delivery is being offered to many mothers. This may be a cause of mortality or morbidity.

2. Should the indications for Caesarean sections and major labour complications be discussed?

In a busy hospital it is important to be sure that the correct indications for Caesarean and assisted deliveries are being used. The incorrect method of delivery may be a cause of perinatal death. Recurring pregnancy or labour complications, such as eclampsia, may indicate incorrect care.

3. Why is it important to identify the probable cause of stillbirth?

Because complications such as congenital syphilis are preventable. It is important to find out why this mother with syphilis was not correctly treated and what the avoidable factors were. In this way other deaths due to syphilis may be prevented.

4. What can be learned from a stillbirth due to fetal hypoxia in labour?

The details of the case should be described so that the participants at the mortality meeting can decide whether the fetal condition was correctly monitored and whether the death could have been avoided. For example, fetal heart rate deceleration may have been missed or meconium stained liquor ignored.

5. Can macerated stillbirth be prevented?

If all the information is available, avoidable factors such as no serology screening for syphilis, poor fetal movements for the past week or poor symphysis-fundal growth may be identified as avoidable factors. These are examples of how regular mortality meetings can improve patient care and also provide a very valuable learning opportunity for the staff.

6. Why is it important to discuss the early neonatal deaths of very small infants?

Because there may have been avoidable factors which resulted in preterm delivery. Complications of pregnancy such as diabetes or hypertension may have been responsible. If they were correctly managed, it may have been possible to continue the pregnancy until the infant was viable. It is only by discussing each perinatal death that complications of pregnancy and labour can be better diagnosed and managed in future.

PPIP classifications of perinatal deaths

These are included as a reference only.

The primary causes of stillbirth and early neonatal death

The most important subdivisions are:

1. Spontaneous preterm labour (labour before 37 weeks’ gestation)

2. Infections

3. Antepartum haemorrhage

4. Intrauterine growth restriction (infant underweight for gestational age, usually with wasting and fetal hypoxia)

5. Hypertension

6. Fetal abnormality

7. Trauma

8. Intrapartum hypoxia

9. Maternal disease

10. Unexplained intra-uterine death

The final causes of neonatal death

The most common subdivisions are:

2. Birth asphyxia (most have fetal hypoxia)

3. Infection (acquired before, during or after delivery)

4. Congenital abnormalities

5. Trauma (during delivery)

6. Other

7. Unknown

A more detailed classification of primary causes of perinatal death is given in the Perinatal Problem Identification Programme at www.ppip.co.za. Each subdivision is given a specific code. Maternal mortality data can also be entered in a similar fashion.

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