Stillbirth rate ‘stubbornly high’, Commons told in Baby Loss Awareness debate

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Parents should never have to bury a baby without knowing or understanding why they died, the Commons has heard.

SNP MP Patricia Gibson ( North Ayrshire and Arran) said the UK’s stillbirth rate remained “unacceptably” and “stubbornly high” despite falling slightly in recent years.

She added she has asked for coroner inquests in England and fatal accident inquiries in Scotland to be instigated when stillbirths at full term occur in an otherwise healthy baby.

Ms Gibson, whose baby was stillborn in 2009, said she appreciated such processes were expensive, complicated and difficult but the lessons which could be learned would improve the care for future babies.

Speaking in a Commons debate on Baby Loss Awareness Week, Ms Gibson said Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison has agreed to investigate the possibility of her idea.

She told MPs: “The significance of this development cannot be overstated.

“If after consideration the Crown Office in Scotland decides for whatever reason this cannot be done, then at least we know where we are, what obstacles we’re dealing with and we can set about removing them.

“And I am convinced this measure will mean fewer of our babies die.

“When that is shown to be the case, I’m hugely optimistic a similar measure will be adopted in England.”

Ms Gibson said October 15 would have been her “wee boy’s eighth birthday” as well as Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.

She said: “It’s very important that his death and the death of all the babies who have been lost have not been in vain.

“The campaign goes on so other babies don’t have their lives ended before they even begin.”

Ms Gibson added: “No parent should have to bury their child and not know or understand why they didn’t live.

“That’s what drives me on and I know that’s what drives on so many of us in this debate today.”

Health minister Philip Dunne outlined the Government’s work linked to baby loss as he opened the debate, also noting: “I know from the experience of my own friends and colleagues that care in bereavement is best described as patchy – and in some cases I could use a less flattering adjective.

“There is no doubt we need to do more to raise the training of staff and facilities available to look after families that go through a bereavement in a hospital setting, and indeed to provide care and support to those who suffer loss outside a hospital setting.”

Mr Dunne said the Government has invested £35 million since 2010 to improve birthing environments, including better bereavement rooms and quiet spaces at nearly 40 hospitals to support bereaved families.

Tory Michelle Donelan described how her late grandmother lost a child, as she questioned how rates of baby loss could remain high almost seven decades later.

She said: “My grandma experienced the loss of her first born in 1948 when the child was breached – tragically the ambulance reached her too late.

“The months after were probably the hardest she ever experienced in her life and I heard about them growing up.”

Ms Donelan (Chippenham) said her grandmother suffered a period of depression after her loss, and yet had “no help in her time of need”.

She said she would want to know why the rates of baby loss were “still so high” and how, 69 years later, “we have still failed to improve our bereavement care to a satisfactory and appropriate level”.

“It is time, so that as I said before, we don’t look back again in 69 years to come, and ask the question why – why are we not doing more for those who need it?”

Victoria Prentis, Tory MP for Banbury, said inquests may be appropriate to investigate baby loss, and could act “restoratively”.

“They don’t have to be legalistic, they can be inquisitive, which of course is the basis of why inquests came into being.

“And I personally feel that inquests, and fatal accident inquiries, of course, in Scotland, do have a really important part to play going forward in preventing as many stillbirths and neonatal deaths as we have.”

Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach (Eddisbury), who broke down in the Commons in 2015 as she spoke about losing her own baby, said improvements had already been made.

“As somebody who sat in a room with white walls and a sofa, that didn’t even equate to anything like a bereavement suite, I know first hand, as do so many other parents that have been on the receiving end of not being in those facilities, that when you visit a hospital like Medway Hospital, which has the most extraordinary facilities, that actually there is change,” she said.

“Change is coming, and the improvement and the change in the last year has to my mind been something that I and many other professionals didn’t actually imagine would happen as quickly and in the way that it has.”

She cautioned that further changes were still needed, with her own freedom of information requests to every clinical commissioning group in the country revealing that fewer than half provided any form of bereavement counselling.

On suggestions there should be coroner inquests for stillborn babies, Mr Dunne said the Government was introducing a “perinatal mortality review tool in order to undertake investigations and collate information in a manner that can then inform and be learnt from”.

As he concluded the debate, he said the Government would “watch with interest” what is happening in Scotland but added: “At this point, I think we need to get the tool working and see how that goes.”