Reducing the number of stillbirths in the UK

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Today marks the start of Baby Loss Awareness Week, a week created to raise awareness of the key issues that affect those who have suffered the loss of a baby.

Devastating figures show that in the UK, 20,000 families a year are impacted by the loss of a baby with 1,300 of these families being situated in Norfolk. 3400 babies are stillborn every year– that’s around nine babies every day or one in every 225 births. A stillbirth is defined as a birth that occurs following a fetal death after 24 completed weeks of pregnancy.

Whether or not a stillbirth was preventable, families that go through this face one of the most distressing and heart-breaking experiences imaginable. Many families are left confused about whether or not the loss of their child could have been avoided had the right medical care been given to them.

In some cases, families want to seek legal advice in respect of the incident surrounding the loss of their baby. As the law currently stands, a claim for stillbirth can be brought forward when there has been a psychiatric injury suffered by the mother as a result of the stillbirth.

The focus is currently very much on stillbirths with the recent and ongoing coronial investigations of stillbirths taking place. Previously, inquests were only opened into the deaths of babies who were born alive, however there has recently been a recognition that there is a need for families who have lost babies by stillbirth to have a more clear and independent investigation when things go wrong.

Proposals of the consultation are as follows:

  • coroners will have powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths (from 37 weeks of pregnancy)
  • the coroner will consider whether any lessons can be learned which could prevent future stillbirths
  • coroners will not have to get consent from any third party in exercising this power
  • coronial investigations will not replace current investigations undertaken by the hospital or NHS agencies.

Kate Smith, a solicitor in the medical negligence team at Ashtons Legal comments: “For a family to learn that their baby’s death could have been avoided as a result of medical negligence is understandably heart-breaking. The government has pledged to halve the number of stillbirths in England by 2025 and in order to ensure that this is carried through, we have to start looking at what went wrong, how it went wrong and what can be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. The current investigation into stillbirth inquests is a step in the right direction to allow families to start getting answers, however we are still a long way from obtaining justice for families who lose their babies as a result of negligence.

I would ask that anyone who has lost a baby and has concerns as to why this happen to please seek legal advice to ensure that you receive the best help available to you.”  

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