Consultation on new investigation of stillbirths
At Wolferstans we act for a number of clients who have been through the devastation of baby loss. Very often families are left without answers as to the cause of their loss. If their baby did not take a breath, they are unable to request an inquest. This only compounds the devastation, but a new consultation is under review, which if passed would enable families to seek a full investigation and seek answers as to why their baby died.
Currently, coroners can only hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after being born. Allowing coroners to investigate stillbirths following apparently healthy pregnancies would provide bereaved parents with vital answers while also ensuring that lessons are learned.
Under the proposals, coroners would not have to seek consent or permission to investigate the cause of a stillbirth. Hospitals and NHS agencies would also continue to undertake their own investigations to help provide families with answers.
The uncertainty as to the reason why a baby did not survive can be all consuming, and whilst there are comprehensive systems for establishing the possible causes of a stillbirth and reviewing the care that had been provided, there is room to further strengthen these processes. Although many parents are satisfied with the results of these reviews, in our experience others feel they have not always been listened to, or that they have not had access to all the facts. Other parents are concerned that the lessons revealed in these reviews are not always put into practice, but a coroner has the power to alter protocols and change working practices.
Understandably, and as we have experienced when speaking to families, there have been calls from bereaved parents, charities and others for a more transparent and independent process for determining the causes of, and learning from, stillbirths. The importance of seeking answers has been recognised and these reforms would enable consideration of all the sensitive issue in detail.
Some of those calling for change have identified coronial investigations as the way to deliver an improved process, while the Chief Coroner for England and Wales has repeated his call for proper consideration of the question whether or not to give coroners powers to investigate stillbirths.
This consultation was run jointly by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care and is an important step towards delivering the Government’s commitment to reduce the rate of stillbirths.
In addition to introducing greater transparency to the way in which stillbirths are investigated, the Government’s proposals would ensure that bereaved parents are involved at all stages of the investigation, and that any learning that can be taken from such investigations is disseminated across the health system to help prevent future avoidable stillbirths.
It is estimated that 50% of stillbirths are avoidable, and there are around 9 babies lost each day in England. Within our medical negligence department at Wolferstans we work with a number of charities in supporting families affected by baby loss, to ensure that our clients are fully supported where a claim is being pursued. If, following the consultation, the recommendations are adopted, we would hope that every family will be able to obtain proper answers to those essential questions.
The CEO of Little Things and Co. provides support to families affected by baby loss, and is also a full time funeral director. She has shared her thoughts with us in relation to the proposals:
“At Little Things & Co. we firmly believe that after the death of a baby families can feel like they have lost control. Being able to restore some control, any control, is a positive thing. The time after the death is confusing, frustrating and families often report feeling like someone else is making all of the decisions for their child. By introducing the possibility of a post mortem to investigate the cause of stillbirth for their child means that they are taking back some of that control and are able to hopefully find answers. It is however a very delicate line and we believe parents should also have the right to decline a post mortem if they so wish. In recent years the British Government took great strides in recognising baby loss and this new consultation can only be a further example of this. At Little Things & Co. we see this as a very positive step forward in reducing stillbirths and improving bereavement care for those affected by this unimaginable tragedy.”
The government has encouraged a wide range of people and organisations to respond to this consultation as it is important to hear and consider all points of view. It has sought responses from bereaved parents, organisations that support them or that provide advice to pregnant women, researchers, health professionals and healthcare providers, as well as from those working in the coroner’s offices.
The impact on families following the loss of a baby is devastating and Wolferstans we act for a number of families affected by baby loss, working alongside a host of charities to ensure full support is provided following such tragedy. If you or any members of your family been affected by baby loss or any injury at birth, and you would like to receive free independent legal advice, without any obligation, please get in touch.