BBC News and the Metro both covered new official statistics on births in England between April 2012 and March 2013.
The detailed data, on all births in NHS hospitals in England during the last year, showed deliveries for teenage mothers (ages 13 to 19) had fallen 8.4% on the previous year and revealed huge differences in birth rates linked to deprivation.
Interviewees in the media welcomed the overall reduction, highlighting it may be a sign of success for sustained sexual health and education efforts aimed at reducing the nation’s high levels of teenage births. However, some also warned against complacency, noting that the UK still has higher teenage pregnancy rates than much of western Europe.
As well as the number of births to teenage mothers, the new statistics paint a detailed picture of the nation’s latest birthing behaviour, including the proportion of “spontaneous” deliveries (not medically induced or requiring a caesarean section), those requiring no anaesthetic before or during delivery, and length of hospital stay.
What is the basis for the teenage pregnancy figures?
The news followed the latest release of official maternity statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre. The data collected is vast and detailed, covering all aspects of births in NHS hospitals in England. It includes private patients treated in NHS hospitals, patients who were resident outside of England, and care delivered by treatment centres (including those in the independent sector) funded by the NHS. It does not cover births occurring outside of NHS hospitals such as home births or those in private hospitals.
Maternity data is presented as “delivery episodes”. This is in effect, the number of mothers not the number of births. Multiple births (twins, triplets, and so on) are only counted once. In the rare event mothers have more than one delivery in a year, they are counted more than once.
Was deprivation linked to any differences in teenage pregnancy rates?
Both media headlines chose to lead with the teenage deliveries figures. Both also reported startling differences between the birth rates of women from the least deprived areas of England and those living in the most deprived areas.
The figures showed birth rates were approximately twice as high for women living in the most deprived areas compared with least deprived. The birth rate was 37.2 per 1,000 women in the most deprived areas compared with 18.6 per 1,000 in the least deprived areas. The difference was even larger for teenage mothers: 31.1 per 1,000 teenage girls in the most deprived areas compared with 3.6 per 1,000 teenage girls in the least deprived.
Importantly, the measure of deprivation used, called IMD scores, comprise seven different areas – some of which may directly correlate with age. So for example, the younger the person, the more likely that they are in employment which pays lower wages. It wasn’t clear to what extent the large differences observed were due to this age correlation, or due to the non-age linked domains.
Birth rates also varied by location. The north east saw the highest rate of teenage births, the lowest was in London.
How much have deliveries for teenage mothers fallen?
The data showed that hospital deliveries for teenage mothers have been falling since 2007 – the earliest year reported in the statistical release. There were 42,671 hospital deliveries to teenage mothers in England in 2007/8, which had reduced steadily to 30,794 by 2012/13, the latest figures.
Over the last year (2011/12 to 2012/13) there were 2,827 fewer deliveries, which was a reduction of 8.4%, the figure picked up and used in the media's headlines.
How do English teenage pregnancy rates compare with other countries?
The statistics released today were only for England so they don’t address this question directly. However, the BBC interviewed Natika Halil of the FPA (Family Planning Association), who said: "While the figures are promising, we are still not at the levels recorded in comparable western European countries, so we must keep up the momentum."
What else do the English maternity statistics show?
The key facts from the report included:
- The number of deliveries taking place in NHS hospitals has increased by 0.3% since 2011-12 to 671,255 per year.
- Nearly two-thirds (64.0%, 379,873) of deliveries started spontaneously; 12.8% (76,284) were medically induced, and 12.7% (75,621) were caesarean.
- In 2012-13, 404,094 (61.7%) of deliveries in NHS hospitals were spontaneous deliveries. The percentage of caesarean deliveries has remained stable at 25.5% (167,283), with a 0.5 percentage point increase from 2011-12.
- Over a third of all deliveries (37.1%, 211,374) required no anaesthetic (excluding gas and air) before or during delivery, 50.7% (174,541) for spontaneous deliveries. The percentage of all deliveries not requiring anaesthetic has increased in recent years (5.8 percentage points since 2005-06).
- 44.3% (297,066) of delivery episodes had a total duration of one day or less; 69.9% (468,891) two days or less, and 10.4% (69,861) of delivery episodes lasted five days or more. The longest stays were associated with caesarean deliveries.
- The 30-34 age group had the highest number of deliveries (196,593, 29.7% of deliveries) which is consistent with 2011-12 (28.8%, 190,910).