Losing a baby is absolutely devastating for the parents and families involved and, understandably, it can have a long-lasting psychological impact.
Sadly, statistics reveal that eleven babies are stillborn every day here in the UK, one of the highest rates of stillbirth among wealthier nations. Many of these deaths remain unexplained and public awareness of the number of babies that are stillborn is still very limited.
After losing a baby, parents may be given answers by the hospital and sometimes the cause of death is clear. However, on many occasions, they are not given a satisfactory explanation when they desperately want to know what happened and that everything that could have been done, was done.
Stillbirths can be caused by failures in the care provided by midwives, GPs or obstetricians during pregnancy and/or labour.
One of the first things to do if you have concerns about what happened to your baby is to make a complaint to the hospital that provided the care to see what answers it can offer. Action against Medical Accidents (AvMA) offers guidance on how to do this which can be accessed here.
If you are not satisfied with the response received, or you feel that the hospital needs to be further held to account, you may wish to consider pursuing a legal claim.
It can take months for parents to feel that they have the strength to speak to a solicitor about what happened and the thought of having to talk about their experiences can be daunting.
However difficult the thought of contacting a solicitor may be, the process of asking someone to investigate what happened can help in a number of different ways:
The first stage of investigating a claim is to obtain the opinion of medical expert(s) to see if there have been failures on the part of the health professionals involved and also whether the baby would have survived if the correct care had been given. Often opinions are sought from expert midwives, obstetricians and neonatologists (those who care for babies after they are born).
These investigations can lead to answers to questions about what went wrong. In most cases, even if the hospital has carried out an investigation into a stillbirth, this can be the first time that parents are able to gain a true understanding of what happened. Many parents blame themselves for what happened and this stage can help them begin to appreciate that they are not at fault.
If a claim does demonstrate that there were errors in the care given, this can highlight circumstances where hospital procedures and policies need implementing or updating to prevent the same mistakes happening again in the future and to ensure that other babies’ lives are not lost.
In successful cases, parents are able to claim for the psychiatric injury that they have suffered. The way the law is at present means that most mothers are able to claim for such injuries, but there are additional tests that need to be overcome for a father (or other close family member who was present at the birth) to also make a claim.
By the time solicitors are first asked to investigate a claim, many parents have received some form of counselling, but, more often than not, they need more specialist care than the treatment they were able to access on the NHS.
Often an expert consultant psychiatrist, who has experience of working on clinical negligence claims, is asked to assess the mother and father. This expert will be able to identify the parents’ individual symptoms and psychiatric injuries and will be able to recommend a tailored set of treatment to help them come to terms with their loss.
As part of the claim, defendants are asked to fund the recommended treatment privately to avoid long NHS waiting lists and ensure parents get the help they need as quickly as possible.
After losing a baby, many parents want to go on and have more children to complete their family. However, the prospect of a future pregnancy can be extremely difficult after such trauma.
This will be considered as part of the claim and it may be possible to seek financial compensation to help the mother obtain additional support and medical treatment during her future pregnancies. For example, if IVF treatment is needed or additional monitoring and counselling is required, these costs can be claimed to allow parents to get the extra assistance they need.
Amy Milner, a senior associate in Penningtons Manches’ clinical negligence team, comments: “Financial compensation will never truly make up for the loss of a child, but it can help families to begin to accept what has happened and to seek the support they need to rebuild their lives.”
If you wish to discuss the care you or a family member received when your baby was stillborn, members of Penningtons Manches’ specialist team would be happy to help.