Hundereds of parents devastated by the birth of a stillborn baby are calling on the Government to radically reform the maternity services.
Over 1,000 people, many of whom have lost a child in pregnancy, childbirth or very soon after, have signed an online petition urging the Government to improve the provision of antenatal care nationwide. Among them are doctors, MPs, Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh, singer Annie Lennox and footballer Jason Euell, all of whom have suffered the tragedy of a stillborn baby.
Today two women who both lost babies in similar circumstances delivered the petition to Downing Street and the headquarters of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
Shocking figures show that 17 babies die every day in the United Kingdom. Ten of these are stillborn and seven are neonatal deaths. This alarming statistic equates to almost 6,500 babies annually.
Critics of the NHS believe that a significant proportion of these deaths may have been avoided had their mothers received better care during pregnancy and labour.
Among those are Collette Murphy (left of picture) and Jo Hart, the women behind the campaign. This is the first time that parents bereaved in this way have petitioned the Government. Their hope is that NICE, which plans to review its guidelines for antenatal care, listen to their concerns and act accordingly.
The petition states that: "Maternity care needs to be improved to reduce the number of babies dying and the devastation of so many lives."
Britain's leading midwife has echoed the sentiments behind the petition, saying that mothers need "real reassurance and not just platitudes".
Cathy Warwick, general secretary of the Royal College of Midwives said: "It's incredibly important that in the maternity services we listen to women and we pay attention to any anxieties they have about their babies. It is women who know their babies best.
"Guidelines for care are simply that and that individual women will need those guidelines tailored to their particular cases.
Calling on the Prime Minister to honour his high profile pledge to hire more midwives, Professor Warwick said: "The Royal College of Midwives believes we need more midwives if we are going to provide the standard of antenatal care that all women should be able to expect."
The issue has recently come under the spotlight after TV presenter Amanda Holden lost her child seven months into her pregnancy. Singer Lily Allen suffered a similar tragedy in November, three months before her due date.
While not seeking to apportion blame, the signatories want the Government to recognise that the NHS is under-resourced and over-stretched which can lead to mistakes – sometimes with devastating consequences. They are calling for more routine scans and screening tests, which they believe could save lives. Some of these tests – such as the one for the potentially devastating infection Strep B – are commonplace overseas, but not in the UK.
Colette Murphy, 44, now a mother of three, delivered her first child, Ethan, in 1999 at almost 38 weeks pregnant. A month previously she had been admitted to hospital after a doctor noticed that the baby's heart rate had slowed down.
She recalled: "I asked the registrar if I could come back every week for check-ups, but he told me the baby was growing well and said I was probably going to have a nice big healthy 7lb baby.
"He insisted they didn't need to see me for a month. His exact words were: 'Nothing can go wrong!'
"At 37-and-a-half weeks I went into labour. When I arrived in hospital, the midwives couldn't find the baby's heartbeat. After two hours of checks, they told us our baby was dead. Our little boy Ethan was delivered that evening. He had blond hair and blue eyes - he was perfect, but teeny-tiny and born still."
Ethan weighed just 4lb 5oz. Colette believes that another scan may have enabled doctors to detect and monitor his slow growth – and possibly have saved him.
Jo's story is equally heartbreaking. Now heavily pregnant, Jo - who runs a music management company – reflects on the loss of her son in 2009.
"I had an amazing pregnancy," said Jo, who was 35 at the time.
"Nothing seemed wrong until I went into labour at 37 weeks. When I arrived at the hospital, there was no heart beat and the baby was pronounced stillborn."
Jo too had to go through the trauma of giving birth to a dead baby. Her son had the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck eight times. In addition, Jo was found to have Strep B.
She added: "There were no scans in the later part of my pregnancy and nobody ever mentioned Strep B. Had I had a scan perhaps the baby might have lived – we will never know."
Explaining their campaign, Colette added: "Many women have asked for extra scans because they haven't felt baby move or because they needed reassurance. But they are told not to worry, babies slow down when they get close to delivery... all will be fine.
"And then the baby dies and everyone fusses around, but if only they had listened. A minute to scan to reassure or a lifetime of pain.
"We are all unique, but unfortunately the antenatal/maternity care is uniform, like a conveyor belt system."
Jo adds: "We need NICE, the Department of Health and the Government to understand that life will never be the same again for parents, families and friends whose lives are ripped apart because a baby dies."
Dr Alexander Heazell is part of the maternal and fetal health team at Manchester University, who himself had a stillborn child.
He welcomed the campaign and said: "I hope that this raises the profile of the problem and the solution.
"We have to do what we know works properly and we have to discover new ways of finding babies who are at risk. Ultimately, we have to raise money and awareness for studies that will improve care."
You can still sign online here.
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