Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:49 pm on 9th October 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Conservative, Eddisbury 8:49 pm, 9th October 2018

It is a pleasure to follow the Minister and the commitments he has made. As he said, this issue unites the House. Patricia Gibson spoke about her dread about today’s debate, as did my hon. Friend Victoria Prentis, and I did not go to sleep last night because of the worry and the feelings that it brings back. But the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran also spoke about the optimism for this year and what we have achieved in the past three years. As the Opposition spokesman said, personal tragedy moves people to go to enormous lengths, and we have heard from Members across the House about constituents who have gone to enormous lengths to try and build on their experiences, ensure that lessons have been learned and make sure that things are better for those who follow.

Three themes emerged from the debate. The first, which is where we started three years ago, is about breaking the silence. My hon. Friend Will Quince, in the week in which Robert has his fourth birthday, spoke about taking on the taboo of speaking about childhood death. We have all taken on that taboo in this House. Each year, different aspects of it emerge. Jamie Stone spoke about his mother suffering in silence. So many people have suffered in silence; indeed, Jim Shannon had his mother and sister share that experience. We are breaking that taboo, we are breaking that silence, working together with those 60 charities that cover all sorts of loss and that are embedded in our communities and supporting our constituents who have been through this.

There is some optimism and hope in Baby Loss Awareness Week, not least because on Saturday we have the wave of light, which travels across the world as parents light candles in memory of their children. Hugh Gaffney also spoke about the role of his mother. At that point in time, with the newly emerging NHS, looking after what are commonly referred to as angel babies must have been very difficult, and I know that my own mother suffered in silence from her own experience, although she was not looking after stillborn babies. That work is important, as was the work of his constituent, Gordon, with Bumblebee Babies.

The second theme was pregnancy support. Ben Lake spoke about this, and particularly about ultrasound scanning in the third trimester. I campaigned on that in Wales when I was an elected Member of the Welsh Assembly, and I urge him to work with his colleagues in the devolved Assembly to try to deliver it. Ultrasound scans in the third trimester have been proven in other jurisdictions to reduce stillbirth and neonatal death, they can make an important contribution to the debate going forward. He also spoke about the work of Gareth and Clare in memory of Mari-Leisa.

My hon. Friend Dr Johnson was the only Member to mention Group B Strep Support, which forms an incredibly important part of this debate. A test for group B strep can be done for £11, and people can discover whether or not their baby might be vulnerable to it. That is an area that we can perhaps work on. I am grateful to her for raising the matter, in the light of her clinical experience, and I know that other Members of the House have campaigned on it.

The hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran said that prevention was the key. Pregnancy support—both around smoking and for BAME communities, who are, as the Minister mentioned, particularly vulnerable—is absolutely critical to that. The MAMA Academy wellbeing wallets have been used in the Countess of Chester Hospital trust, and they recently saved two lives. Because the women had on the front of their medical notes the areas of concern that they should look at, they went and sought help, and there are two babies alive today who might not otherwise have been. Prevention is key.

The third theme that came out of today’s debate was post-bereavement care and support. The Government have made huge strides, working together with the third sector. The best abilities of the third sector have been harnessed together with the drive and ambition of the Department of Health to deliver the national bereavement care pathway, and that is a really good example of co-operative working. I think it will lead to a huge change in the quality of care and help to end the postcode lottery that parents face.

I know that the previous Secretary of State for Health was absolutely committed to the idea that health professionals should not close ranks to try to protect other health professionals when things go wrong. The idea is to promote transparency and openness. As my hon. Friend the Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham said, it is about the “why?”—the desire to find out why something happened and make sure that it does not happen to anyone else. I think we should take forward such positive learning experiences to help to reduce the number of neonatal deaths, stillbirths and perinatal losses. There is work to be done, but there is much to celebrate. Many other events are taking place during Baby Loss Awareness Week, and I urge Members to get involved in them.