Coroners in England and Wales may be given new powers to investigate full term stillbirths as part of wider plans to help prevent future stillbirths and improve maternal care.
The government has today, 26 March 2019, launched a consultation on proposals to give coroners the power to investigate all full-term stillbirths to help provide parents with vital information on what went wrong and why, while ensuring any mistakes are identified, and learned from, to prevent future deaths.
Currently, coroners can only hold inquests for babies who show signs of life after being born. Whilst, the treating hospital will investigate when a pregnancy that appeared to be healthy ends in stillbirth, and a safety investigation body funded by the Department of Health and Social Care may look into it, concerns have been raised about the inconsistency of investigations. Whilst many parents are satisfied with the existing processes, some have raised concerns and have called for a more transparent and independent system. In light of these concerns, Ministers are asking for views on whether coroners should be able to investigate stillbirths. (Source)
Tommy’s charity reported that in 2017 around 9 babies were stillborn every day. In many cases, doctors are unable to tell parents why their baby died. Under the proposed system coroners would have powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths, occurring from 37 weeks pregnancy. As judicial office holders, coroners would not only be able to provide parents with much needed answers but also make recommendations to prevent future avoidable deaths. In addition, the proposed system will ensure that both bereaved parents and medical staff are involved at all stages of the process. (Source)
Justice Minister Edward Argar said “A stillbirth is a tragedy which has profound effect upon bereaved families. We must ensure that every case is thoroughly and independently investigated. These proposals would ensure that bereaved parents have their voices heard in the investigation, and allow lessons to be learnt which would help to prevent future stillbirths.” (Source)
Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price said “We want to do everything we can to make pregnancy safer, by continually learning to improve the care on offer so fewer people have to experience the terrible tragedy of losing a child and those who do get the answers and support they deserve.” (Source)
Stacey Anderson, Chartered Legal Executive, says “This is a positive step in the Government’s bid to improve maternity care, reduce the number of stillbirths and to ensure bereaved parents have an independent investigation. I act for bereaved parents who have suffered the devastating impact of stillbirth and often their main objective is to obtain answers about what went wrong. Of course, what also needs to be considered is how bereaved parents will fund representation at an inquest at which the hospital will almost certainly have legal representation.”
The joint consultation, from the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care, is seeking a wide range of views, from bereaved parents, the organisations that support them or that provide advice to pregnant women, researchers, health professionals and healthcare providers as well as those working for coronial services. It will run for 12 weeks, closing on 18 June 2018. To have your say visit here.
If you have had a stillbirth or birth injury and are concerned about the care that you received please feel free to contact one of our team to discuss your enquiry in confidence. The Clinical Negligence team can be contacted on 01206 574431 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.