A rise in the number of women dying during pregnancy or shortly after childbirth has prompted leading doctors to call for something to be done about this “worrying” phenomenon.

It has led Catherine Nelson-Piercy, professor of obstetric medicine at King’s College London, and colleagues to call for an increase in the number of obstetric physicians and better training for GPs in an article in the British Medical Journal.

According to the doctors, an increase in the number of “high-risk” pregnancies, including older and obese women, means the potential for a number of health problems is greater.

However, they insisted that most of these deaths are caused by conditions that are preventable or treatable, while they warned doctors to remain vigilant.

The doctors concluded that most of these deaths are associated with poor healthcare and “in one third of cases this is classified as major substandard care, where different care might have prevented death of the mother” before adding that “these failings require urgent attention”.

Research indicates that the biggest cause of maternal deaths is heart disease, followed by neurological disease.