A CHARITY which supports parents affected by stillbirth has been praised for helping drive a 20% drop in baby deaths in Scotland.

Figures, which have not yet been released, are expected to show that a national target to reduce stillbirths by 15% in three years has been achieved and surpassed.

Scotland’s new Chief Medical Officer, Dr Catherine Calderwood, who set the target, praised the charity SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Deaths Society) for compelling the government to take action after figures showed the rate in Scotland had flatlined for 20 years.

Dr Calderwood, who is also one of the country's leading obstetricians, worked with the Scottish arm of the support group to develop an action plan, which included increased scanning of expectant women and encouraging mothers to monitor feotal movements and seek advice at an earlier stage.

She said: “What that support group did, is that they read the literature and they did comparisons and they realised that the stillbirth rate in Norway was less than half than of Scotland.

“They came to the government on behalf of those families and said, we will not accept this.

“They were supporting people who had experienced stillbirths and neonatal deaths and they really decided that we could no longer tolerate this flatline.

“There were 17 babies dying across the UK. And I, as an obstetrician in the Scottish Government, knew that it’s one of the worst things that can occur in your professional life, to tell a family that their baby has died.

“And so, this family group came to me and I said, ‘I want to help you.’

“We set a target to reduce stillbirths by 15% and I was told, ‘there is no way you are going to do that.’ I knew it was being done in other parts of the world.

“So we looked at the areas in the health service where we felt babies weren’t being looked after and said, we will scan the babies a bit more, we will get women to be more aware of fetal movements, we will get them to come into our services as soon as they are worried about their baby.

“And the stillbirth rate has reduced by 18%.

“In fact the next figures are expected to show that we have reduced the stillbirth rate by 20% in three years.

“That was started by a parent support group and I wish I had been more ambitious when I set that target.”

Sands was founded in 1977 by Hazelanne Lewis, a psychiatric social worker who had given birth to a stillborn baby. An "avalanche" of replies from all over Britain revealed a vast unrecognised need for support and information for parents and families.