Proposed coronial investigation of stillbirths

12 Aug 2019

The 12 week joint consultation launched by the Ministry of Justice and the Department of Health and Social Care on 26 March 2019 entitled “Coronial Investigations of Stillbirths” ended on 18 June 2019.

The consultation sought views from bereaved parents, the organisations that support them or that provide advice to pregnancy women, researchers, health professionals and healthcare providers as well as from those working for coronial services and followed the Chief Coroner for England and Wales repeating his call for proper consideration of the question whether or not to give coroners powers to investigate stillbirths.

At present, coroners are only able to hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after being born. By contrast, coroners are unable to investigate births where the pregnancy appeared healthy but the baby was stillborn. The proposals contained within the consultation give coroners the power to investigate all full-term stillbirths. The proposed system would ensure that the parents of the child and medical staff are involved at all stages of the investigation.

If coroners are granted these powers, parents or healthcare agencies will be able to make a request to the coroner for an inquest and the coroner will then be able to open an investigation into the baby’s death. Following the coronial investigation, the coroner will be able to give bereaved parents answers and also make recommendations to prevent future avoidable deaths.

The proposals in the consultation include:

1. Giving coroners the power to investigate all full-term stillbirths occurring from 37 weeks of pregnancy (when a baby is effectively full-term)

2. Coroners will consider whether any lessons can be learned which could prevent future stillbirths

3. Coroners will not have to gain consent or permission from any third party in exercising their powers

4. Coronial investigations would not replace current investigations undertaken by the hospital or NHS agencies.

The rates of stillbirth in England and Wales are the lowest on record but they are still higher than some other comparable countries. In 2017, 2873 babies were born stillborn in England and Wales. Current figures confirm that 9 babies are born stillborn every day in the UK, which is equal to 1 in every 225 births and in many of those cases, doctors are unable to tell parents why their baby has died.

In November 2017, Jeremy Hunt, at that time Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, pledge to halve the number of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths as well as severe birth-related brain injuries in England and Wales by 2025 and stated that it was important for families that there should be a transparent inquiry into the reasons why the birth of their child ended in tragedy. The proposals contained within the consultation are therefore an important step towards achieving this result.

Jeremy Hunt said: “The tragic death or life-changing injury of a baby is something no parent should have to bear but one thing that can help in these agonising circumstances is getting honest answers quickly from an independent investigator. Too many families have been denied this in the past, adding unnecessarily to the pain of their loss.”

The Government’s response to the consultation is expected to be published in September 2019. If you have suffered a stillbirth and are interested in pursuing a Clinical Negligence claim against the healthcare professionals who were involved in your pregnancy, the team of Clinical Negligence Solicitors at Trethowans will be happy to advise you. Contact us today on 0800 2800 421.

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