Baby Loss

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:37 pm on 13th October 2016.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Conservative, Colchester 12:37 pm, 13th October 2016

The hon. Gentleman raises an incredibly good point. In the run-up to birth, people can go to groups such as NCT and prenatal classes, so I totally agree. We have made friends who have gone through similar experiences. You feel that you can talk openly with them, because they have gone through very similar experiences and are feeling the same things as you. That is very powerful. There may be a role that charities and the NHS can play in putting parents—where they feel able—in touch with other parents who may want to talk about their experience.

I shall speak briefly about Government targets. I know that the Government sometimes get a hard time on the NHS, but they have accepted the premise of our argument. I remember first meeting my right hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich as Minister responsible for care quality—it was like pushing at an open door. We now have firm commitments to a reduction of 20% by the end of this Parliament and 50% by 2030. It is our job as an all-party parliamentary group to hold the Government’s feet to the fire and to make sure that they are working towards those targets and that we start to see results.

I could not let this debate go by without talking about some of the issues that charities have raised with me. I shall touch on prevention and then talk about bereavement. Research in this area is vital. As my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury said, around 50%—in fact, the figure is 46%—of stillbirths and 5% of neonatal deaths are unexplained. We need to look, for example, at ethnicity and ask why south Asian women are 60% more likely to have a stillbirth, and why black women are twice as likely to do so. Why is there a geographical disparity across the UK? I know that part of the answer is social inequality, but why is the figure 4.9% in some parts of the UK and 7.1% in others? That is around a 25% variation. It is not acceptable and we need to understand why it exists.

We need to look at multiple pregnancies, as Hannah Bardell mentioned from the Scottish National party Front Bench, and at lower income families. We need to study our European counterparts and see why they are getting it so right and whether we can implement similar measures in the UK.

Some right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned public health and they are right to do so. Maternal age, nutrition and diet, drugs, alcohol and smoking are all relevant. We could achieve a 7% reduction if no woman smoked during pregnancy. That is a huge target to achieve and we could do a lot of work on smoking cessation, especially during pregnancy. Studies show that we could achieve a 12% reduction if no mothers were overweight or obese.

There is a huge piece of work that we could do on empowering women and mothers-to-be. Initiatives such as Count the Kicks are important. Nobody knows their body as well as a mother. If she feels that there is something wrong, there is a good chance that something is wrong. When she picks up the phone to the hospital or to her GP and her concern is dismissed with the words, “Don’t worry, it’s not important,” she needs to get it checked out. If there is nothing to worry about, great, but on the occasions when we do not get a concern checked out and then something terrible happens, we have to hold ourselves responsible.

There are various initiatives to empower women. Teddy’s Wish is currently sponsoring fantastic folders—as anybody who has had a baby will know, mothers-to-be get purple maternity notes which they carry around religiously just in case the baby comes early. The wonderful plastic folders that the maternity notes go in inform mothers—and fathers—what to look out for, what are the signs if something is not right, when to pick up the phone, when to go and see their GP and when to go to the hospital. Such innovation is exactly what is needed.

Investigation and reporting are important so that we learn the lessons of every stillbirth and neonatal death. Covering things up and dismissing them with comments such as, “That’s unexplained. These things happen. I’m terribly sorry,” are unacceptable. We have to learn from every case. I am pleased that the Government have put a significant amount of money into setting up a system of reporting to enable us to investigate and learn from every stillbirth and neonatal death.

Patricia Gibson rightly mentioned post-mortems. So many parents are not offered a post-mortem. One might wonder what parent would want that opportunity, but parents who lose children often want to know why. They want to understand how and why it happened and how they can make sure that it does not happen again. Offered the opportunity, many parents opt for a post-mortem because they know that that research can help others, but clinicians may not be asking the question—often with good intentions, because it is not an easy question to ask. We must ask the question if we are to get post-mortem rates up, which will feed into the research that will allow us to cut our stillbirth rate.

An hon. Member—I apologise, I cannot remember who it was—mentioned late-stage pregnancy scanning. In this country we do not scan past 20 weeks. We scan at 12 weeks and we scan routinely at 20 weeks, but there is no routine scanning past that. I find it bizarre that the abnormality scan takes place halfway through the pregnancy, but after that the mother-to-be is not seen again for a scan until she arrives at the hospital when she is in labour. Other countries across the world and particularly our counterparts in Europe do scans at 36 weeks or Doppler scans. There are huge improvements that we could make in that area.

I want to clarify one point in relation to prevention. The NHS is brilliant, and where we get it right in this country, we really get it right. The problem is the inconsistency across the NHS. I know that the Secretary of State and the Minister of State will agree when I say that we have some of the best care in the world, but it is important that that is replicated in every hospital and every maternity unit in the country, so that whatever hospital a woman goes into and whatever GP she sees, she will get the same level of care and consistent advice.

Even if we manage to achieve our target, even if we match our European counterparts and reduce our stillbirth and neonatal death rates by 50%, that will still mean between 1,500 and 2,500 parents going through that personal tragedy every year. That is why it is important that the APPG puts an equal emphasis on bereavement. I have talked about consistency of care across the NHS, and there should also be consistency of bereavement pathway and bereavement care across the NHS. It is important that we consider aspects such as training for staff. I know that Ministers have put huge amounts of funding into training as part of the plan to achieve a significant reduction in the stillbirth rate.