Parliament held a debate to mark Baby Loss Awareness Week on 8 October 2018, in what has over the last four years become an annual event with MPs across the different parties demonstrating a clear focus on improving safety for babies, both during pregnancy and birth and onwards. Every day in the UK 15 babies are born or die shortly after birth, a number which is still far too high for a developed country, and the debate has recognised the significance of this issue.
This year's discussion was hugely informative and highlighted the improvements being made from the adoption of the Saving Babies' Lives Care Bundle, which focuses on identifying babies presenting with fetal growth restriction, raising awareness of reduced fetal movements and promoting effective monitoring of babies' heart beats during labour by the use of cardiotocograph (CTG) monitoring.
The debate underlined progress made with a 19% reduction in stillbirths, but also flagged up the 8% neonatal mortality rate where a baby is born prematurely (before 37 weeks gestation). The reasons for this are unclear but it requires closer scrutiny to identify how to improve outcomes for some of the most vulnerable babies born in the UK.
Another significant area of focus was on the mental health and bereavement support that is available to parents who have experienced this devastating loss, following the introduction of the National Bereavement Care Pathway which was poignantly rolled out during Baby Loss Awareness Week 2018. What is apparent is that bereavement support still varies across the UK and consistency is needed so that all bereaved parents receive the assistance they need at one of the most traumatic times in their lives. This support should be given immediately after loss, rather than weeks or months later, once waiting lists allow (assuming there is scope for any support in the geographical area in question). Care should be available to both mums and dads - appreciation is building that fathers are affected just as deeply by the loss of a baby or child as mothers, as is highlighted in the SANDS #Findingyourway campaign, launched in June 2019.
Helen Hammond, senior associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches Cooper, who often represents parents whose babies have been stillborn or passed away shortly after birth, comments: "When advising families who have lost a baby, one of the most significant things I can achieve for them, alongside obtaining answers to their questions about what happened, is to help them access psychological support. The reality is that parents should not have to take legal action to obtain this; appropriate psychological support is vital, and it should be available to all those who have lost a baby or child, regardless of whether any mistakes were made in the care provided."