MORE babies were delivered through caesareans in Blackburn with Darwen last year than ever before, NHS figures reveal.

Almost a third of all babies delivered in 2020-21 were delivered via a C-section, and health bosses have said rising obesity levels and older mums are behind the rise.

NHS England recently told hospitals to stop using caesarean section rates as performance targets as they might be "clinically inappropriate and unsafe" for patients – though these figures pre-date the move.

Of the 605 births recorded in Blackburn with Darwen in 2020-21 in Office for Health Improvement and Disparities figures, 32.7 per cent were delivered by C-section.

That was up from 24.3 per cent the year before, and the highest rate since records began being kept in 2014-15.

The figure in Blackburn with Darwen is slightly than the average across England, where 32.5 per cent of births in 2020-21 were delivered by C-section – up from 30.1 per cent in 2019-20.

This rate was also a record high.

The figures also show huge disparity in rates between local areas – from as high as 39.8 per cent in Thurrock, in the East of England, to just 24.9 per cent in Telford and Wrekin, in the West Midlands.

Following the Government's recommendation, NHS England told all maternity services to stop using total caesarean section rates as a means of performance management earlier this year.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG) said it welcomed the decision from NHS England, as caesarean birth targets are "not appropriate in individual circumstances".

Dr Teresa Kelly, consultant obstetrician and spokesperson for the RCOG, said the national increase is due to a higher number of complex births – partly caused by the rises in both obesity rates and the average age of women giving birth.

She said both vaginal and caesarean births carry certain benefits and risks, but that a woman's informed choice should always be respected and supported.

Dr Kelly added: “Childbirth is unpredictable and complications can and do arise.

"The safety and care of women during labour and birth and the safe arrival of their babies should always be the main focus, and medical intervention in some cases can be lifesaving."

The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) said it is important women have personalised care, and a pregnancy and birth that is right for them.

Birte Harlev-Lam, executive director at the RCM, added: “Decisions about clinical care should not be dictated by targets and should be made in the best interests of the woman and her baby, in collaboration with the woman."

Separate figures from the OHID also show the fertility rate in England has fallen to the lowest level on record.

The general fertility rate – measured by the number of babies born for every 1,000 females aged between 15 and 44 – fell to just 55.3 in 2020, the latest figures available.

In Blackburn with Darwen, the rate was 65.7 in 2020 – down from 67.9 in 2019, and also the lowest since comparable records began in 2010.