An alarming rise in stillbirths in the UK between the months of April and June have sparked a safety review by one of England’s top patient safety organisations.

The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch (HSIB) has identified that during that three month period, which saw the peak of coronavirus cases, 40 UK women experienced stillbirths, compared to 24 during the same period in 2019 – a 144% increase. Additionally, the HSIB told the Health Service Journal that they had observed roughly double the number of intrapartum stillbirths compared to the same time last year.

So far it is unclear what the cause of this trend may be. However, according to the BBC, some pregnancy and childbirth experts have claimed that some women may have put off seeking essential care due to the coronavirus pandemic. The UK’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) has described the figures as “concerning”, but is waiting for further data before it makes any concrete claims. Dr. Edward Morris, the president of the RCOG, insisted that antenatal care was “essential”, and urged women to attend their medical appointments despite the coronavirus.

In a survey which included almost 50% of UK maternity units, 86% told surveyors that less pregnant women than usual had come to them with health issues during lockdown.

“This may have been due to confusion around whether these appointments are essential, fear of attending a hospital or not wanting to burden the NHS,” Dr Morris said.

“We have consistently advised women who have concerns or worries about their or their baby’s health – including the baby’s movements – should seek medical advice from their midwife or hospital immediately.”

The potential indirect effects of covid-19 on pregnant women is also being examined. A full report on the potential cause of the increase is set to be released in 2021, and the Office for National Statistics will release more recent figures soon.