Calls for Greater Transparency and Independent Investigation of Stillbirths in UK
Research has shown that 9 babies are still-born every day in the UK. This causes unimaginable distress to the bereaved parents, particularly when there are unanswered questions around the cause of the stillbirth. The current system for investigating these matters in England and Wales gives the hospital caring for the patient and the NHS powers to investigate still-births.
While this can be effective, some parents have raised concerns about the lack of transparency and independent investigation being carried out in cases of stillbirth. The system in Northern Ireland incorporates the use of a coroner in stillbirth cases were a child was capable of being born alive as a result of the landmark Judgment in Attorney General’s Application .
This has proven to be a much more effective procedure in that bereaved parents have recourse to an independent investigative body if they are not satisfied with internal investigations. Under the current investigation procedures in England and Wales doctors are, in some cases, unable to tell parents why their baby has died. It is, therefore, totally understandable that parents are calling for more robust investigative procedures to be put in place. The UK government have launched a joint consultation with the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care in order to explore the possibility of introducing a coroner to investigate stillbirths.
The proposed reforms would not remove the current investigative procedures in hospitals and the NHS but would allow coroners to investigate all full-term stillbirths, occurring from 37 weeks of pregnancy. The objective of this is not only to promote transparency and give parents some closure, but also to inform medical professionals and help them to learn from the coroner’s investigations and ultimately achieve the overall aim of preventing avoidable stillbirths. Justice Minister Edward Argar has endorsed the proposals, stating; “the use of coroners to investigate them (stillbirths) in an open and transparent way would not only bring closure to families who have suffered this tragedy but would also help us to learn lessons for the future to help further reduce the number of stillbirths.”
The joint consultation is currently gathering information from bereaved parents and health professionals in an attempt to get a broad spectrum of information and instruct them on the need for coronial investigations into stillbirths. Sands, a Stillbirth and Neonatal death charity, have called for coroners to be given jurisdiction to investigate stillbirths should parents believe that the hospitals internal review process does not adequately answer questions around their babies death. It does seem entirely reasonable that bereaved parents should have the option of having stillbirths investigated and that it would serve the dual purposes of identifying any lessons that must be learned in order to reduce preventable deaths and giving bereaved parents closure.
At PA Duffy and Company our experienced medical negligence solicitors have vast experience in cases of this nature and offer professional and compassionate services. We endeavour to ensure that bereaved parents gain closure and advise them on the merits of investigating whether a stillbirth could have been avoided.