It is positive to see new NHS guidelines being introduced this week in a bid to tackle high stillbirth rates in the UK, with the aim of halving the number of maternal baby deaths by 2030.
It comes on the back of a damning report last year, which claimed more than half of stillbirths in the UK could be avoided if midwives avoided basic errors and acted better on warnings from concerned parents.
That national enquiry, led by the University of Leicester, found more than 60 per cent of stillbirths might have been avoided with better care. Half were found to have occurred after women contacted maternity units because they were fearful that their baby’s movements had slowed, changed or stopped.
NHS figures show that one in every 200 babies is stillborn in the UK, and there is around a 25 per cent variation in stillbirth rates across England.
Midwives must improve checks on babies
Now, in a bid to significantly lower the number of cases, midwives are being told to improve checks on babies in the womb, and to better listen to warnings from expectant mothers, as part of the ‘Saving Babies’ Lives Care Bundle’.
Information and advice leaflets on reduced foetal movement will also be given to all expectant mothers by week 24 of their pregnancy, whilst the new guidelines also stress that more help should be given to ensure women smoking during pregnancy are alerted to the extra risks of stillbirth they face.
It is the first time such guidance has been issued specifically for reducing baby deaths during pregnancy, and it is something we at Hudgell Solicitors welcome.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, said: “NHS maternity care is now the safest it’s ever been, and most mums say they’re cared for brilliantly.
“But that makes it all the more tragic and heart wrenching when for a small number of families something goes terribly wrong.
“We could however cut the chances of this happening if all pregnant mums were encouraged to quit smoking, if proper monitoring takes place during pregnancy, and if maternity providers listen carefully when pregnant women report worries about their baby’s movements.”
Many midwives will no doubt be furious at such a suggestion of not listening to mums, and that is understandable. The vast majority of midwives across the country do a tremendous job in ensuring hundreds of thousands of babies safely enter the world every year.
Mothers feel midwives are dismissive of concerns
However, in our work at Hudgell Solicitors, we have supported many mothers who have felt their concerns were too easily dismissed, leading to devastating consequences.
And the fact that Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt is targeting saving an extra 1,500 lives a year by 2030 is evidence of the need for change.
We see the huge pain and devastation caused when a baby is stillborn, a pain which is only intensified when a family learns their baby could, and should, have been born healthy.
Mum felt she was ignored
A mum whose baby was stillborn and we represented in a compensation claim told us how she felt she was ‘treated like a silly little teenager’ when voicing her concerns, believing midwives ignored her due to her young age.
Despite experiencing reduced movements from her baby on numerous occasions during the final month of her pregnancy, she was repeatedly sent home by antenatal staff, including after suffering a haemorrhage.
The new guidance says more thorough checks should be carried out to check baby growth, which can indicate risk of stillbirth, and is the single largest preventable category.
It also calls for better advice to parents on foetal movement, and stricter protocols to ensure that women who report changes get the right care.
Such measures could have prevented the stillbirth of Samuel Attree, a twin boy who sadly died in his mother’s womb without hospital staff realising, due to errors made when measuring his growth.
Independent medical experts, consulted as part of a birth negligence case, concluded that Samuel had stopped growing at 31 weeks, and that errors had been made when measurements had been taken.
It was only when his mother, Kelly Attree, went in to hospital to be induced at 37 weeks that it was discovered Samuel had died a week earlier.
The hospital Trust involved eventually agreed to pay Mrs Attree a five-figure compensation settlement for her loss and suffering, but that is of little comfort to Mrs Attree and her family.
The Trust never accepted any liability for the death throughout the case, and only offered an apology when details of the errors made reached the media.
NHS must admit mistakes and learn lessons
It is this stance from the NHS which we see far too often. A reluctance to accept the blame, and fully investigate matters when things have clearly gone wrong, can only prevent valuable lessons being learned.
Our birth negligence specialists are highly-experienced in dealing with such sad cases, and we see first-hand the devastation caused by the stillbirth of a baby, and the long-term emotional and psychological suffering that more often than not comes with such a life-changing event.
We hope that the publication of these reports, and new guidelines, lead to change and improvement, and that less families go through the trauma of losing a baby which should have been born healthy.