Independent investigations will be offered to grieving families who have to endure the trauma of stillbirth or life-changing injuries to their babies, the Health Secretary will announce today [28 November].
Jeremy Hunt will also reveal he will look into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be investigated by coroners, as he delivers a major speech focusing on maternity safety.
And in a bid to save more than 4,000 lives, he will also outline how the Government wants to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and severe birth-related brain injuries by 2025.
The Health Secretary will say: “The tragic death or life-changing injury of a baby is something no parent should have to bear, but one thing that can help in these agonising circumstances is getting honest answers quickly from an independent investigator.
“Too many families have been denied this in the past, adding unnecessarily to the pain of their loss.
“Countless mothers and fathers who have suffered like this say that the most important outcome for them is making sure lessons are learnt so that no-one else has to endure the same heartbreak.
“These important changes will help us to make that promise in the future.”
As part of the pledge to help grieving parents, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch established earlier this year will have hundreds of cases of stillbirth, early neonatal death and severe brain injury referred to it.
The Department of Health said this NHS safety investigator, led by experts, will standardise investigations of cases of unexplained severe brain injury, intrapartum stillbirths, early neonatal deaths and maternal deaths in England, sharing findings to prevent future tragedies.
Mr Hunt will also highlight his plans for the Government to work with the Welsh government and other stakeholders as it looks closely into giving coroners powers to conduct investigations into stillbirths.
Currently, coroners can only investigate the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, and not the deaths of full-term babies who died prior to or during birth.
All proposals to change the law would be subject to public consultation, the Department of Health said.
Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, welcomed the announcement of independent investigations and said it is a step change which could potentially save more babies’ lives.
“For too long, parents have not been consulted and lessons have not been learned despite research repeatedly finding that many deaths are preventable and are related to the quality of care mothers and babies receive,” Dr Harmer said.
“Parents must be assured of a high-quality investigation, with their voices at the heart of any review into the death of their baby.
“This will require leadership at each trust and health board to commit to learning from every death in an open and honest way, and NHS staff must have the support, training and time to conduct reviews rigorously.”
The package of measures set to be announced will also include plans to reduce the national preterm birth rate from 8% to 6% – around 10,000 fewer premature babies per year from 2025.
Jane Brewin, chief executive of charity Tommy’s, welcomed the Government’s target to reduce the number of premature births.
Added to the target to reduce stillbirth, she said this “puts maternity safety and the wellbeing of parents and their babies at the forefront of what parents can expect from a world-leading NHS”.
“I know that parents will be happy to hear that this Government places such a high priority on giving babies the best start in life and we look forward to playing our part to make this ambition a reality,” she said.