THE BLOG

Our Opportunity To Break The Taboo And Talk About Baby Loss

12/10/2016 09:31 | Updated 12 October 2016
Ed Freeman via Getty Images

There is no question that a miscarriage or the death of a baby are very difficult subjects to talk about. We don't like talking about death let alone the death of a baby. However it is only by talking about miscarriage, stillbirth and neo-natal death that we can start to address the underlying issues and causes and importantly ensure that the appropriate bereavement care is in place to support those who sadly lose a baby.

Last year we led a debate on bereavement care in maternity units, the public response was overwhelming with parents contacting us from all over the country to tell us of their experiences. Following that debate we teamed up with other Members of Parliament on a cross party basis to establish the All Party Parliamentary Group for Baby Loss. The role of the group is to work with charities, health professionals and the Government to strive for fewer baby deaths and to address the impact of pregnancy and baby loss in the UK.

There are around 3,500 stillbirths in the UK every year, and around 2,000 neo-natal deaths shortly after birth. Every single one of these is a personal tragedy for the families. But perhaps the most galling aspect is that so many of these deaths are actually preventable. That's why we strongly welcome the Government's aim to cut the stillbirth and neo-natal death rate by 20% by 2020 and by 50% in the next 15 years. Currently Britain is listed 114th out of 164 countries because of its failure to tackle stillbirth rates, we want that to change and for Britain to become one of the safest places in the world to give birth, rather than one of the worst.

Today we launched our vision for a UK working towards a change in approach to child death that will see prevention, commissioning, clinical care and support there for families that suffer all forms of child loss. Public health information campaigns are needed to reduce the number of preventable baby deaths targeted around smoking in pregnancy, deaths in BME communities which are at far greater risk of suffering stillbirth and neonatal death and around infection such as streptococcus B. There needs to be better collection of data and sharing of best practice. There are many hospital trusts who have really good examples of best practice as seen in Greater Manchester, Lancashire and South Cumbria Strategic Clinical Networks have developed a stillbirth-specific integrated pathway. Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Trust has introduced butterfly signs on maternity doors to alert staff when parents have lost a baby and adapted their literature to ensure parents receive relevant information and advice. Abigail's Footsteps offers equipment such as cold cots to hospitals. This work being carried out by many charities and dedicated healthcare professionals need to be shared within the NHS to address the gaps in service where parents are effectively left to fend for themselves.

Many countries in the developed world, like Spain and Finland, have far better records in reducing stillbirth rates than us, through focussing on safety and intervention. Our current stillbirth rate is 4.7 per thousand births. Reducing this to Finnish rates of 1.9 per thousand births could prevent nearly 2,000 stillbirths every year - around six stillbirths each day. What a difference that could make to so many families. If we could achieve those reductions there will still be a need for parents who suffer miscarriage, stillbirth or neo-natal death to access help and support, so we need to ensure staff have appropriate training. Currently a midwife will receive just one hour of training in bereavement prior to qualification, this could and should be changed. The Department of Health has commissioned SANDS to develop a comprehensive bereavement care pathway, in partnership with other charities and healthcare experts. This is vital to ensure that parents are not left isolated and alone as so many are where best practice is not being followed. Finally we would like to see an online portal for bereaved parents, with a directory of the relevant support available in each area, which could be used by parents and other health professionals such as GPs.

This week is Baby Loss Awareness Week and for the first time ever this is being marked in Parliament with a reception in the Speaker's apartments by kind permission of the Speaker of the House of Commons, a remembrance service in Westminster and a three hour debate on baby loss in the House of Commons chamber.

This is our opportunity to break the taboo and ensure we talk about baby loss and the steps we need to take to ensure as few families as possible have to go through this personal tragedy and sadly when it does happen, the support and bereavement care is in place across the UK. On Saturday will be an international wave of light, which is a chance for parents to light a candle in memory of their children. Hopefully by discussing this and highlighting the need for greater prevention and the sharing of best practice, we will achieve the aim of seeing lower rates of infant mortality in the UK, as the current rates are unacceptably high and something needs to be done.

Correction: This blog previously stated that Britain is listed 112nd out of 164 countries in tackling stillbirth rates' In fact, Britain is listed 114th.

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