This blog is in response to Baby Loss Awareness Week and considers issues arising from the beginning of pregnancy through to those babies born but who die shortly thereafter and negligence cases relating to ectopic pregnancy, stillbirth and neonatal death.
By Lucy Norton
Baby Loss Awareness Week takes place annually, supported by a number of national charities who provide support to those affected by pregnancy loss and the loss of a baby. These charities include SANDS (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death), Child Bereavement UK, Group B Strep Support and TAMBA (Twins and Multiple Birth Association).
Baby Loss Awareness Week is noted to be an opportunity:
• For bereaved parents, and their families and friends, across the world to unite and commemorate their babies’ lives.
• To raise awareness about the issues surrounding pregnancy and baby loss in the UK.
• To let the public and key stakeholders know what the baby charities are doing to reduce the number of families affected and raise awareness about what support is available.
The loss of a baby, whether early on in pregnancy or at, during or after the birth is hugely traumatic for all involved. There are so many questions mothers (and fathers) ask of themselves and the healthcare professionals around them. In many cases there is no answer as to why it happened. Even with a detailed investigation a response which satisfies those questions will not always be forthcoming. However, there are some cases where a different outcome could and should have been achieved with appropriate medical care.
As a medical negligence solicitor I have dealt with delays in diagnosis of an ectopic pregnancy, where the mother not only has to deal with the fact her pregnancy will not be fulfilled but the potential loss of her fertility too. Whilst an ectopic pregnancy cannot be prevented, early treatment can help to prevent further problems such as rupture of the ovary or fallopian tube requiring more extensive treatment.
Very sadly miscarriage is statistically quite common (it is reported on the NHS Choices website that approximately 1 in 5 pregnancies ends in miscarriage). Late miscarriage is rarer and towards the end of the pregnancy (post 24 weeks) this would be known as a stillbirth. Sometimes early intervention by a midwife or obstetrician can lead to expedited delivery and thus prevent death or injury. Each case is unique and should be looked at in its own right.
The death of a baby during the birth process is particularly difficult for parents to comprehend, especially if they are surrounded by (or are supposed to be surrounded by) doctors, midwives and obstetricians. Issues that we, as solicitors, see arising in the stillbirth and neonatal death cases we investigate are varied and can include (in no particular order): lack of midwives to provide 1 to 1 care, lack of training which means poor judgment, lack of continuity of care, failure to note concerns about the baby’s condition, failure to escalate a problem to the appropriate person and communication breakdowns.
The charities supporting Baby Loss Awareness Week all provide invaluable support and information to those affected.
These are always very emotive cases whether or not there was a negligent cause for the loss of a baby. Knowing what that cause is though can be therapeutic for the family and anyone who experiences such a loss should seek answers. My colleague Joachim will be writing further later this week about the psychological impact of the loss of a baby for parents.