Parliament Debates Baby Loss: Progress is to be Commended, but More Needs to be Done to Prevent Baby Loss Going Forward.
It was great to be able to brief MPs on the key steps that need to be taken to improve outcomes for mums and babies, and prevent bereavement.
On such an important topic as Baby Loss, it was powerful to see members across all parties come together to discuss the progress of the work being done in this area, and also the next steps for the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG).
The developments in bereavement care have been commendable; with awareness being raised about the treatment of all members of the family following tragedy, and improvements in how professionals support the family in the hospital and community setting. With the ambitious government target of halving stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025, the focus of the group should now be to prevent baby loss, as well as rolling out a standardised package of quality bereavement care.
Participating Members of Parliament:
There were three themes in the debate, as summarised by Ms Sandbach in her closing remarks.
1. Breaking the Silence
Members spoke emotively and powerfully about their personal stories relating to baby loss; some directly, and others indirectly through constituents. What was clear was the pervasive suffering felt, and the subsequent motivation to make things better.
Members have worked together across parties with the 60 charities of the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance to bring about this much-needed change.
The Global Wave of Light on 15th October, also recognised as International Pregnancy & Infant Loss Remembrance Day, is in memory of all babies that lit up the lives of families for such a short time. We would encourage anyone to be involved.
Baby Loss is not as rare as you would like to believe in the UK, with 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage, and 15 babies a day being stillborn or dying within 28 days of life.
2. Pregnancy Support
With the stark reality of the number of pregnancies that can sadly end tragically, members brought up ways in which pregnancies can be supported to prevent this tragedy. In recent reports, 80% of deaths of babies investigated by MBRRACE-UK were found to be preventable with better care. This is not only heart-breaking for the families involved but should also motivate a change in practice – a shift towards better learning, and better access to learning.
Several members brought up the need for prioritisation of training for maternity healthcare professionals, so that they are able to react effectively when necessary and save avoidable anguish.
Justin Madders, Shadow Minister for Health and Social Care, mentioned Baby Lifeline’s findings regarding the restrictions in the administration of the one-off limited Maternity Safety Training Fund. By definition, the fund was limited and workforce pressures meant that many staff could not access the training available under the scheme. Where the fund was used effectively, there were clear examples of improved outcomes for mother and baby, but he emphasised that this must not be the end of the story. Mr Madders called for the fund to be repeated on an annual basis, and the staff to be given time and space to attend.
Mr Madders noted the 25% variation across regions in the rates of babies that are stillborn, and although there has been a general reduction in stillbirth and neonatal deaths, the neonatal death rate in England and Wales has increased over the past two years. Equally, according to The Lancet, the annual rate of stillbirth reduction in the UK has been slower than in the vast majority of comparable high-income countries. These findings show that something can be done to improve outcomes in the UK – learning from best practice, and standardising this nationally. Work from the Healthcare Safety Investigations Branch (HSIB) should enable trusts to learn the route causes of avoidable deaths and injury.
The Minister for Health, Stephen Barclay, noted that since the launch of the national maternity ambition, the Government have introduced a range of evidence-based interventions to support maternity and neonatal services. He then mentioned areas of progress had been identified, which formed part of the day’s debate.
3. Post-Bereavement Care & Support
Working together with the third sector, the APPG has effectively put together and delivered a National Bereavement Care Pathway. This care pathway will help improve the current post-code lottery that parents face with bereavement care. There are certainly examples of excellent bereavement care; however, this needs to be the right of any parent in need of support following a tragedy, and not dependent upon which hospital and which professional they see. Healthcare professionals need support in delivering this, and also support in dealing with bad outcomes themselves. Ms Prentis noted the importance of remembering midwives and obstetricians also affected by babies in their care.
Dr Caroline Johnson talked about the two primary reactions she has witnessed in her experience as a children’s doctor: firstly, the “Why?”; and secondly, the desire to ensure that lessons are learned from their own personal tragedy to ensure that families that follow will not have to endure the agony. It is, therefore, important that professionals feel comfortable to speak openly about what happened without fear of being blamed.
Mr Quince mentioned the importance of funding for research into baby loss. We still do not understand why 50% of stillbirths happen, and we must learn from every miscarriage and stillbirth going forward in order to prevent more from occurring.
The Question was put and agreed to:
The House had considered Baby Loss Awareness Week 2018.
Work going forward will focus on the implementation of the Bereavement Care Pathway nationally, the prevention of avoidable stillbirths and neonatal deaths, and continuing the work on breaking the silence on baby loss.