Whilst all stillbirths are of course tragic and in most cases unavoidable, we know from our experience in supporting families at Hudgell Solicitors that many late stage stillbirths could, and should, have been avoided.
With that in mind it has certainly been welcome news that coroners in England and Wales may soon be given new powers to investigate some stillbirths for the first time.
Currently, coroners can only hold inquests into the deaths of babies who have shown signs of life after being born.
However, the Government is now considering giving them powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths occurring from 37 weeks pregnancy, which is of course classed as full term, without needing permission from a third party.
Changes are certainly needed to help reduce stillbirth rates as currently there are nine babies stillborn every day in the UK – one in every 225 births.
Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price has perfectly explained the aim of these new proposals, which she says are ultimately ‘to ensure fewer people have to experience the terrible tragedy of losing a child and those who do get the answers and support they deserve’.
Independent and transparent investigations are needed
It is certainly important that more independent questions are asked when things go wrong at such a late stage of pregnancy.
The increased involvement of coroners can only bring greater transparency, which we are certain will be positive for parents needing answers.
Often questions need to be asked as to whether the delivery of a baby should have happened at or slightly before 37 weeks, and if by taking that decision the stillbirth could have been avoided.
The decision making process not to intervene medically, the reasons behind those decisions, and the treatment and care provided during birth need exploring fully on each and every occasion where a healthy baby is suddenly lost.
In some cases that we have been involved in, enough questions have simply not been asked as part of internal investigations by the hospital itself, or other NHS agencies involved.
We also see cases where the full findings of investigations, and errors which are discovered, are not adequately explained to bereaved parents, leaving them without clarity over what happened.
Answers are often also only forthcoming once we have become involved legally.
Losing a baby during pregnancy or birth is a heart-breaking and distressing experience which can have a long-lasting impact on all involved.
Sadly, bereaved parents are often left feeling completely helpless with little explanation – something that can have a huge psychological impact on all involved, as well as affecting relationships, work, health and mental well-being.
This proposed new system, which is being jointly proposed by the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care, and is being consulted upon over the next three months, will hopefully not only lead to changes being made on maternity wards, but crucially a reduction in the number of families returning home without the baby they have waited for so long.