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Stillbirths and Neonatal Deaths

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    A survey has found that a significant number of bereaved parents are being let down when they experience a stillbirth or the death of a newborn baby. What more should be done to support bereaved parents?

    By Ali Cloak

A survey  ‘Listening to Parents’ conducted by the researchers from the National Perinatal Epidemiology Unit at Oxford University in conjunction with bereavement charities found there was a wide variation in the quality of care afforded by treatment providers to parents following a stillbirth or death of a newborn baby.

Overall the survey found that the care provided was generally of a good standard, with bereavement midwives often being singled out as deserving special praise. However, it also highlighted significant areas for improvement.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENTS

10% of the women questioned reported that they did not feel that their concerns were taken seriously during labour.  Almost one third felt uninvolved in the decision making and almost half were not convinced of the certainty of the decisions that they made at the time.

It is reported that 1 in 3 stillbirths happen at a time when the babies could have survived if they had been delivered which is an extremely high proportion.  It is therefore crucial that concerns in labour are dealt with appropriately by the midwife or obstetrician.

As medical negligence solicitors we act for clients with claims relating to their babies being stillborn as a result of failures to appreciate complications during pregnancy.  Typically, these claims relate to placental abruption, pre-eclampsia, haemorrhage, infection or cord prolapse. The parents we act for have frequently suffered psychiatric injuries sustained as a result of the death of their child.  The death of an unborn baby, especially in the latter stages of a pregnancy, is extremely distressing and it can have a long lasting psychological impact.  This is often compounded by a feeling of helplessness particularly when the parents feel that their concerns during pregnancy or labour were not listened to.

The survey reported that some bereaved parents were located in rooms within maternity wards, being able to see and hear other parents with their healthy newborn babies which made it particularly difficult for them to cope.  We would hope that hospitals can take steps to ensure parents can be placed in quiet areas more appropriate to their needs and allowing them time to grieve following the death of a baby.

WHAT MORE CAN BE DONE?

The charity for stillbirth and neonatal death, SANDS, believes that much more must be done.  One key aspect of this involves seeking to reduce the incidence of stillbirths and neonatal deaths which are deemed to be preventable, i.e., those which happen as a result of medical negligence.

The conclusion of the study encourages clinicians to make efforts to listen to the views of parents who have experienced the death of a baby so that lessons are learned and mistakes are not repeated.

Additionally, more needs to be done to support bereaved parents where such a tragedy has occurred so as to minimise their distress and to investigate the events in full.  Our clients often report that a primary reason for pursuing a medical negligence claim is to understand what happened in circumstances where this has not been explained to them, and where the lack of understanding serves to compound their grief.

OUR EXPERIENCE

The lawyers in the Clinical Negligence Team fully agree that more needs to be done both to prevent stillbirths and neonatal deaths and also to support parents when this does occur.  Often small changes by hospitals, such as taking the time to speak with bereaved parents and helping them to understand what went wrong, can provide great comfort at such a difficult time.

Our team is experienced in working with our clients in order to investigate where failures in medical care have lead to a stillbirth or death of a newborn baby. Where we can show that the death could have been prevented with appropriate treatment then we guide clients through the claims process to obtain compensation for their loss and injury, including the costs of psychological therapy or counselling if required.

If you have concerns about the treatment you received please contact a member of the Clinical Negligence Team who will talk you through the process and answer any questions you may have.

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