Lawyers experienced in supporting grieving families following the loss of children during pregnancy and birth say an emotional parliamentary debate now has to mark the start of major improvements in both maternity care and support provided to families.
A debate in the House of Commons as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week placed the issue of UK infant mortality and maternity care firmly in the national spotlight.
It came after a study last year found Britain has the fourth highest rate of infant mortality of all Western countries
The commons was moved to tears as politicians themselves who have lost children during pregnancy and childbirth told their own stories.
Giving what she said was the hardest speech of her life, MP Vicky Foxcroft described how she lost her baby girl Veronica five days after complications during birth, as ‘the umbilical cord had been wrapped around her throat for the whole 20 minutes’.
MP highlighted major issue in the lack of compassion and support for the bereaved
Rosamund Rhodes-Kemp, a clinical negligence specialist at Hudgell Solicitors, said Ms Foxcroft delivered a brave and powerful account of how devastating child loss is for families.
She said the MP had also crucially highlighted a major issue in raising the lack of support provided for bereaved families, saying changes must be made.
Mrs Rhodes-Kemp said: “Our work is firstly very much focussed on reducing the number these heart-breaking family tragedies in the UK, and with that in mind it was really positive to see this debate being held in Parliament.
“We are determined to investigate errors when they are made, and to continue supporting those continually campaigning to drive up standards, such as the recently launched Monitoring for Mums Appeal by the charity Baby Lifeline, which aims to standardise in-house training on maternity wards across the UK, and raise money for essential new monitoring equipment.
“Improving the standard of care has to be the main focus, but there also has to a greater understanding of the impact losing a child has on parents.
“Ms Foxcroft described how she felt dismissed in the weeks and months after the loss of her daughter as ‘just a kid, rather than a mum’. She also said how she was made to feel like she should feel grateful when she turned to people for help. Sadly, more than two decades on, it is something we still see and it is completely unacceptable.
“The way parents are treated after stillbirths in particular is appalling. To any parent it is a devastating loss but they are not even given the most basic support and understanding. For a start both parents should be granted extended times of leave from work of some kind to come to terms with it, but this doesn’t happen.
“In my experience of supporting families who lose children, over many years, I have never met one family which has ‘got over it’ – and I am sure I never will. We must support parents better, not just through excellent charities like SANDS and the Birth Trauma Association, but through the work place by allowing time to grieve.
“If medical errors have led to the loss of a baby then the first step must also be an apology from the Trust involved (not something we always see) followed by early resolution. The trend of awarding families minimal compensation must also end through revising the laws around Fatal Accident Compensation.”
In 2014, 3,014 babies died in the UK before they reached one. Around 70 per cent died the first 28 days of life, known as the neonatal period.
Infant mortality rates have fallen in the UK since the early 1900s but in the last two decades progress has slowed.
The Parliamentary Debate was called as part of Baby Loss Awareness Week, and Mrs Rhodes-Kemp added: “The number of infant mortalities has remained static for last decade in the UK where as other countries have reduced rate. Studies have also shown many guidelines to improve care in the UK are not being followed, such as those relating to testing and monitoring of women with an increased risk of complications during pregnancy.
“Whilst it was great to see this issue being debated in Parliament, it was also a shame that not more MPs from across the country were there to hear it. There were far too many empty seats, and what could be more important than discussing how we improve the way we bring people into the world, and how we reduce the number of avoidable baby deaths? Perhaps that was itself an example of how this issue is too easily dismissed by those making decisions.”
Dimple Raja, a clinical negligence solicitor based in Hudgell Solicitors’ London office, has supported many families in legal claims following the loss of a baby through medical negligence.
She also has personal family experience of the loss of a baby, with the poor care only adding to the pain of losing their baby.
She said: “A member of my family was told her first baby had passed away at 38 weeks gestation and when she subsequently saw a consultant, she was told she would have to come back to deliver her still born.
“She requested not to be in any pain when this happened and a Consultant advised she could have PCA (patient-controlled analgesia) when she had to deliver her baby.
“However, when she arrived at the hospital two days later to delivery her still born baby, the midwife advised her there was no one available to give her the PCA because they were all busy in other emergencies.
“This magnified what was already a very traumatic and distressing situation.
“A person’s experiences in hospital often go on to shape their future, like Vicky Foxcroft, who said she could not bring herself to have another child for fear that history would repeat itself.
“More needs to be done not only to address the high still birth and neonatal deaths, but to support families at the time of the traumatic event.
“It should not be left solely to charities to provide support after parents and families have suffered a bereavement. Not enough is being done by hospitals at the time of the event and often poor communication and poor attitudes by medical staff to patients and families make matters worse.”
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