Bereaved Parents To Get Vital Questions Answered After Stillbirth Under New Proposals

New proposals will give coroners power to investigate all full-term stillbirths.

Bereaved parents who suffer a stillbirth could soon gain vital information on what went wrong and why, under new government proposals launched today.

Parents would obtain answers from an independent inquest into their baby’s death under the plans to improve the way such tragedies are investigated, while also ensuring any mistakes are identified to prevent future deaths.

The new proposals will give coroners the power to investigate all full-term stillbirths. Currently, they can only hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after being born. They can’t investigate where the pregnancy appeared healthy but the baby was stillborn – in these circumstances the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch investigates the death.

While some parents are satisfied with existing processes, others have raised concerns about the inconsistency of investigations and have called for a more transparent and independent system.

“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,” said health minister Jackie Doyle-Price.

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Ministers are asking for views on whether coroners should be able to investigate stillbirths. 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. Justice Minister Edward Argar said it will ensure parents have their voices heard in the investigation, and allow lessons to be learnt which would help to prevent future stillbirths.

The joint consultation from the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care seeks 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.

Under the proposed system:

  • Coroners will have powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths occurring from 37 weeks pregnancy

  • The coroner will consider whether any lessons can be learned which could prevent future stillbirths

  • Coroners will not have to gain consent or permission from any third party in exercising this power

  • Coronial investigations will not replace current investigations undertaken by the hospital or NHS agencies.

Whilst the UK’s rates of stillbirth are the lowest on record and there have been year-on-year falls in the number of pregnancies that end in a stillbirth, the government is clear that more must be done.

“We’re committed to delivering on our ambition in the NHS Long Term Plan to accelerate action to halve this number by 2025,” said Doyle-Price. “This is a complex issue and it’s important we get it right by listening carefully to those who are affected by these issues, so I urge everybody to have their say on this consultation. By sharing your experiences you can ensure any decision we make puts women, loved ones and their babies first.”

Kate Mulley, director of research, education and policy at stillbirth charity Sands, said bereaved parents often tell them how important it is to understand why their baby died to ensure that lessons are learned to prevent future deaths.

Mulley urged parents to come forward and share their views, adding: “This consultation by the Ministry of Justice raises important questions and we would encourage anyone affected to make their views known.”

For anyone wishing to share their views, visit the consultation page here.