June 2016 is the stillbirth and neonatal death (Sands) Awareness Month during which the charity is focused on increasing awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death. Britain is ranked 33 out of 35 in the developed world for its stillbirth rates with more than 3,600 stillbirths still reported in the UK every year. Every day in the UK, around 17 babies die shortly after birth, but despite this alarming number, most people are not aware of how common and devastating it is to experience the death of a baby and the long lasting effects on families.
Although a large proportion of stillbirth and neonatal deaths are unavoidable, there are a significant proportion of deaths which, sadly, could have been avoidable if expectant mothers had been made aware of the various risk factors and been appropriately monitored throughout their pregnancies.
Sands Awareness Month gives a voice to anyone who has experienced the death of a baby; highlights the fact that over 100 babies will die each week during the month of June; and raises funds to help Sands to continue supporting families, improve bereavement care and promote vital research.
The charity’s work is ever more important following an inquiry in 2015 led by the University of Leicester which found that hospitals are missing key opportunities to save the lives of hundreds of babies in the UK. This inquiry followed the health secretary, Jeremy Hunt’s pledge to improve mortality rates among mothers and new-borns to reduce the numbers of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2030.
Despite this, more than half of the investigations into stillbirths and neonatal deaths following full term labour have been found to be “insufficient”, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG). 'Each Baby Counts Initiative' is RCOG’s national quality improvement programme which aims to halve the number of incidents of stillbirth, neonatal death and severe brain injury during full-term labour by 2020. A new RCOG report reveals that, out of 204 investigations, 56% of reviews were deemed “inadequate”. Hospitals are therefore not learning from potentially avoidable deaths or serious injuries sustained by babies during labour. There are a number of causes of stillbirths and, while many people believe that stillbirths result from a developmental or genetic problem, fewer than one in 10 stillbirths are caused by a congenital abnormality. In a large number of stillbirths, the baby appears to be completely healthy and, for around one third of babies, there is no clear cause of death which is described as “unexplained”.
Some of the well-known causes of stillbirth include:
Amy Milner, associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, comments: “There continues to be a significant proportion of baby deaths which could have been avoided if expectant mothers had been made aware of the various risk factors and had been appropriately monitored throughout their pregnancy. Sadly, we continue to act for many parents who have lost their baby and who approach us wanting answers about what went wrong and whether the death could have been avoided with different care.
“One of our recent cases relates to advice given by a midwife to an expectant mother when she presented to hospital at 37 weeks with a history of spontaneous rupture of membranes. The mother was not given the appropriate advice to return within 24 hours for an induction of labour, nor was any follow up put in place. When the mother returned to hospital two weeks later, intrauterine death was confirmed. Although an internal investigation was undertaken and a serious internal investigation report commissioned, the family were neither involved with the investigation nor advised out the outcome of the report. It was only when we were instructed to investigate the events surrounding the stillbirth of their baby, that we were able to obtain a copy of the report and advise the family on the outcome of the investigation.
“We welcome the RCOG report and continue to support Sands’ work and commitment to those that have been affected by stillbirth and neonatal losses.”