Maternity Mistakes: Will Independent NHS Investigations Mean A Fairer Outcome For Parents?

The news that the Government is to invest more money to help reduce the rate of stillbirths, neonatal deaths and maternal deaths in England by 50% by 2030 is extremely welcomed. It will allow for independent reviews of all stillbirths to be carried out, which will hopefully provide a speedy response and give the families involved hope that they will find the answers as to it happened.

There is nothing more harrowing and devastating than a mother losing her baby before it has even had a chance at life. Whether the outcome was known or unexpected, the loss and grief for that family will stay with them for ever.

The only question that families feel they can ever really ask is, “why did this happen?” But, all too often, bureaucracy gets in the way and the process to answer this simple question takes too long for the mother and her family. It creates doubt and mistrust, leaving the parents feeling as if they are not being told the whole truth, and in desperation to find answers, families will often turn to the law to help get the facts. This creates anxiety for any future pregnancies the family may later experience.

In a recent case I dealt with, a mother, who had a family history of diabetes, sadly lost her baby just before the due date. She had done all she could have done in preparing for her pregnancy, but there were missed opportunities for staff to carry out further investigations to check the health of the baby, which may have allowed for a better outcome during the birth.

Achieving true independence in future investigations is vital, as is the participation of grieving parents. Parents must be appropriately represented in such investigations because at the moment they are given little, if any, financial assistance to fund their representation within inquiries, particularly at the Coroner’s court. These parents are forced to make these arrangements privately at their own expense, yet, health authorities and trusts are almost always represented properly throughout investigation processes.

Encouragingly, in 2016 the Office for National Statistics indicates that the stillbirth rate in the UK decreased to 4.4 per 1,000 total births – the lowest rate since 1992. In England, the stillbirth rate in 2016 was 4.3 per 1,000 total births, down from 4.4 in 2015. There has been a general downward trend in the stillbirth rate over the last 10 years, with a decrease of 19% since 2006.

The figures are reassuring but there is no room for complacency. The main focus of maternity care is to make childbirth as safe as possible, and this can only be done with continued investment into the maternity services to ensure units are adequately staffed and equipped for purpose. It is hoped that the proposed investment by the government will go a long way towards making sure that each and every stillbirth is properly investigated, and it is vital that lessons are then learned in respect of these often avoidable and tragic deaths.

In a modern society where healthcare is more advanced than its ever been, we should expect nothing less than to have highly trained, skilled and confident staff to ensure that all pregnant women will have the best opportunity to give birth to healthy babies.

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