Business of the House (Prorogation) – in the House of Commons at 4:46 pm on 8th October 2019.
I beg to move,
That this House
has considered baby loss awareness week.
This is the fourth Baby Loss Awareness Week debate, and it is incredibly heartening to see how this has become an annual event in the House. It helps to send a clear signal outside this place about the importance of this subject in the Chamber, in the Department of Health and Social Care and in the national health service.
Over the years, many Members of Parliament have been brave enough to share their personal and painful accounts of baby loss, which, while heartbreaking to hear, have done so much to raise the profile of this important issue and to start vital conversations about it. It is absolutely right and fundamentally important that we continue to raise awareness of both the devastating impact of baby loss and the support that bereaved parents need through the grieving process to help them adjust to their loss. I do not think people ever fully heal or get over the loss of a much loved and much wanted child, but with the right care and support they might be able slowly to move forward with their lives.
I identify with everything the Minister has said so far. One point about these debates for members of the public who have not experienced baby loss, and for some Members here, is what we learn about the heartbreak and, in some instances, the lack of support. In general terms, it has been very good to have these debates—even if we do have them annually—because they educate the public about an issue that has too often been shoved under the carpet, for want of a better term. It is better that people now understand what other people go through in life, so I do appreciate the Minister’s opening remarks.
I thank the hon. Gentleman so much for that intervention. He is absolutely right. In this place, we have a unique opportunity to raise subjects that people find it difficult to talk about out there. In doing so, we shine a light on those subjects, and we are able to really begin to move the dial and to change practice.
With that in mind, I would like to pay tribute to Antoinette Sandbach and my hon. Friend Will Quince, who is desperate to speak, although, being a Minister, he is prevented from doing so, so we will have to restrain him. However, in a late-night Adjournment debate back in 2015, they began to raise awareness of the variation in care for families bereaved by baby loss. It was an incredibly moving debate—I remember listening to it at the time—and it really made such a magnificent difference. It was followed by the Baby Loss Awareness Week 2016 debate, which was about bringing the subject to light and challenging the idea that baby loss is an uncomfortable topic that we do not like to talk about. I am grateful to the Members from across this House who shared their personal experiences on that day back in 2016 and have done since.
International Baby Loss Awareness week begins tomorrow and finishes next Tuesday. This year, the focus is on the need for specialist psychological support for bereaved parents who need it. The Baby Loss Awareness Alliance group of charities will be publishing a report highlighting that some parents need that kind of support as part of their bereavement care.
I wholeheartedly support the thrust of this debate and what the Minister is saying. I am not going to make a speech today—I did that last year—but when a child is lost, which as Members know has affected my family, counselling and gynaecological advice are hugely important. However, my constituents are over 100 miles from the nearest hospital where someone can give birth. I just want to put it on the record that a 200-mile round trip from Caithness to Inverness makes getting the counselling and gynaecological advice so difficult. My constituents are losing out on that front, and I wish that Caithness general hospital in Wick could be used for such purposes.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for raising that. The situation is particularly difficult in rural communities where people live a very long way from services. As we set out in the NHS long-term plan, maternity outreach clinics are going to start to integrate maternity, reproductive health and psychological therapy for women experiencing mental health difficulties arising from or related to maternity experience, and we must keep in mind those living in very remote communities when we talk about those outreach facilities.
This is such an important topic. While the Minister is on the subject of outreach clinics, may I also emphasise to her the need for maternity bereavement suites within maternity suites? I am proud to have helped secure £22,500 for the new facility at Scunthorpe hospital that opened over the summer, and I pay tribute to the Health Tree Foundation for securing that £175,000 project. It took years but we now have a bereavement suite where parents who have had a stillbirth can spend time with their other children and with their baby on the ward in that maternity suite, just as other young mums and dads do. It is a really important part of the healing process. Frankly, that should be the norm throughout all our maternity suites. As we mark Baby Loss Awareness Week, perhaps the Government could consider such a system for the country as a whole.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that point. He is absolutely right that we need to give that area a lot more attention. Having that ability to spend time together will be an incredibly valuable and important part of the process of grieving and coming to terms with the unbelievably tragic death of a baby.
On the question of raising awareness, a job that was so ably started by my hon. Friends, the Minister will be aware of my Civil Partnerships, Marriages and Deaths (Registration etc) Act 2019, which became law in May, two parts of which relate to stillbirth. One gives the Secretary of State the power to have coroners investigate stillbirths and the other sets up a review by the Secretary of State to look into the registration of pre-24-week stillbirths. That review body has not met for over a year, so can the Minister update us on when the legislation will be laid so that, for the first time, coroners will have the power and ability to investigate stillbirths where they see fit to do so?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that matter, because he brought forward a really important private Member’s Bill. The consultation concluded on
Much has been achieved since 2015 to improve the quality of bereavement care for parents, and I put on record the efforts of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss, ably led by my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury with support from Members on both sides of the House. I will speak more about developments in bereavement care in a moment, but first I would like to talk about some of the progress made by the NHS on improving safety and reducing baby loss in maternity and neonatal services.
I cannot continue any further without putting on record my enormous thanks and gratitude to my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, who has done more than anybody to further the cause of patient safety and to investigate the untimely deaths of babies, and across the NHS. I thank him from all of us for his incredible work in that space.
Members will be aware of the Government’s ambition to halve the rates of stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025, with an interim ambition to achieve a 20% reduction in those rates by 2020. The ambition includes similar reductions in maternal mortality and serious brain injuries in babies during or soon after birth, and a 25% reduction in the pre-term birth rate from the current 8% to 6% by 2025.
This ambition was set in November 2015, when the Lancet stillbirth series ranked the UK 33rd out of 35 high-income countries for stillbirths. Case reviews of stillbirths and neonatal deaths suggest that many such deaths might have been prevented by better clinical care, and the Morecambe Bay investigation report made 44 recommendations for improving the safety of maternity services.
In 2016-17, the Department of Health launched a range of initiatives that are being delivered by the NHS under the auspices of the maternity transformation programme, and I would like to mention a few of those achievements. Every NHS trust with maternity services now has a board that includes obstetric and midwifery safety champions to lead the development of an organisational safety culture. Every trust has received a share of the £8.1 million maternity safety training fund, and 30,945 training places for multidisciplinary teams were delivered in 2018-19, with courses focusing on training for childbirth emergencies in labour wards and in the community, as well as on leadership, communication and resilience.
Evaluation of the “Saving Babies’ Lives” care bundle found that clinical improvements such as better monitoring of a baby’s growth and movement in pregnancy, as well as better monitoring in labour, mean that maternity staff have helped to save more than 160 babies’ lives across 19 maternity units. An estimated 600 stillbirths could be prevented annually if all maternity units adopted national best practice. A revised version of the care bundle is currently being rolled out across England, and it includes elements to reduce the number of pre-term births and to optimise care where pre-term delivery cannot be prevented.
I associate myself with the Minister’s positive words about my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt and all he did to improve patient safety in the NHS. It was a fantastic piece of work.
Mr and Mrs Pickup of Knaresborough have suffered significant personal loss but are seeking to drive change to ensure that no other family have to face the same tragedy. The issue is with the automatic sharing of medical records between trusts. The process used within the NHS to ensure that that happens has not always worked very smoothly, so will my hon. Friend please consider this matter as she works to improve patient safety across the NHS?
My hon. Friend is right to raise that matter. When a tragedy could have been avoided by something as simple as sharing patient records, there is no option but to embrace the technology we need to make that a reality. Both the previous and the current Secretary of State for Health and Social Care are in favour of that.
Every trust is now using the perinatal mortality review tool to review stillbirths and neonatal deaths to make sure lessons are learned so that other families do not have to suffer in the same way. The first annual PMRT report is due for publication later this week, and it will provide an analysis of the first 1,500 cases. Overall, a review has been completed on 96% of stillbirths and 86% of neonatal deaths since the tool was launched.
The Minister talks about safety advice and safety good practice, so may I ask her and the UK Government to share that advice with NHS Highland and indeed the Scottish Government, who have never in my two years or so here given me a straight answer on the safety of pregnant women? Some of those women, who might be in labour, are being transported more than 100 miles from Caithness to Raigmore Hospital in Inverness, in the middle of winter, when the A9 can be blocked. I think lives are in danger.
The hon. Gentleman has put his thoughts clearly on the record, and if there is anything we can ever do to share best practice with colleagues across the devolved nations and around the rest of the world, we are always happy to do that.
The Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch is another remarkable innovation. It commenced investigations in April 2018 and has been operational in the 130 trusts providing maternity services since the end of March 2019. By the end of August, the HSIB had completed 88 investigations, with 169 draft reports looking into maternity and neonatal deaths currently with trusts and families.
NHS Resolution recently published a report on the first year of its early notification scheme for potential birth brain injuries. The scheme requires all births at NHS trusts in England from
I am happy to report that this summer the Office for National Statistics reported that the stillbirth rate in England had decreased from 5.1 stillbirths per 1,000 births in 2010 to four stillbirths per 1,000 births in 2018. That represents a 21% reduction in stillbirths two years ahead of our ambitious plan.
I thank the Minister for Baby Loss Awareness Week and for her statement. Let me reiterate that many mothers want to have a natural childbirth, and it is essential that they can do so if possible, but we also need to make sure that the facilities are there in all of our maternity units to be able to act if a natural birth does not take place, so that we can deliver the baby without any brain injury.
My hon. Friend is right, and so much of what the Government have been working on in recent years is about making sure we have the right facilities, skills and knowledge right across our NHS estate.
Let me reiterate what I mentioned a moment ago, which is that we have seen a 21% reduction in stillbirths two years ahead of our ambitious plans. Of course every stillbirth is a tragedy, but I am sure the House will want to join me in paying tribute to midwives, obstetricians and other members of multi-disciplinary maternity and neonatal teams across the NHS for embracing the maternity safety ambition that we set, and for their incredible hard work in achieving this milestone two years ahead of target—that is remarkable. However, there is no room for any complacency, because there is so much more to do.
Many Members will be aware that the neonatal mortality rate in 2017 was only 4.6% lower than it was in 2010, and that headline figure hides the fact that the ONS data show that the number of live births at very low gestational ages, most of whom die soon after birth, increased significantly between 2014 and 2017. In fact, the neonatal mortality rate in babies born at term—that is, after at least 37 weeks’ gestation—decreased by 19% and the stillbirth rate in term babies decreased by 31.6% between 2010 and 2018. The pre-term birth rate remains 8%. Clearly, the achievement of our ambition depends significantly on reducing those pre-term births.
I apologise to the Minister and to the House for missing the early part of her remarks. On the statistics she has just commented on, is it not the case that we are going backwards in our progress on neonatal deaths? Is it not also true that there is a marked difference in more socially deprived areas since 2014? Does that not suggest that significantly more investment in this policy area is needed urgently, particularly in those areas where social deprivation is most stark?
The hon. Gentleman is right. We are still going forwards, although nowhere near as quickly as we would want to be going, but there have been some backward steps along the way. A lot of the changes that we have introduced have not yet had the opportunity to take full effect, and I am hopeful that as we move forward will begin to see neonatal death rates reduce. As I just mentioned, when babies are born at or close to full term, the rate has dropped significantly. It is pre-term births that are causing a lot of concern for us, which is why we are putting continued effort into this issue.
In the long-term plan that was published in January, the NHS committed to accelerate action to achieve the national maternity safety ambition. Maternity services will be supported to implement fully an expanded “Saving Babies’ Lives” care bundle across every maternity unit in England by 2020. The development of specialist pre-term birth clinics will be encouraged in England, which should help very much.
NHS England and NHS Improvement will continue to work with midwives, mothers and families to implement the continuity of carer model, so that by March 2021 most women will have a named individual caring for them during pregnancy and birth and postnatally. That will help to reduce pre-term births, hospital admissions and the need for intervention during labour. It will also improve women’s experience of care.
Let me return to bereavement care. Members will be aware that for three years the Department of Health and Social Care has provided funding to the charity Sands for it to work collaboratively with other baby loss charities and the NHS to develop and pilot the roll-out of a standardised national bereavement care pathway for parents who have experienced baby loss, whether through miscarriage, termination after receiving a diagnosis of foetal abnormality, stillbirth, neonatal death or, indeed, sudden infant death. The pathway sets out nine standards for good bereavement care and has so far been adopted by 40 trusts. I hope that many more will follow.
I was contacted by one of my constituents, whose baby died in July at 26 days. She still, now, has been unable to get counselling support. Will the Minister look into giving clear guidance to clinical commissioning groups to make sure that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence guidance on bereavement is there for everyone?
Yes. That guidance is there. My heart goes out to the hon. Lady’s constituent. If she wants to get in touch with us about any lack of access to care and support, we will almost certainly be able to help and look into it for her.
Bereaved parents need time to grieve. I take this opportunity to congratulate my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake—I do not think he is present—who last year had a fantastic private Member’s Bill. As a result, from 2020 the Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018 will give all employed parents a day-one right to two weeks’ leave if they lose a child who is under the age of 18 or suffer a stillbirth from 24 weeks of pregnancy.
Finally, the NHS commits in the long-term plan to improve access to and the quality of perinatal mental healthcare for mothers, their partners and children, by increasing access to evidence-based care for women with moderate to severe perinatal mental health difficulties and personality disorder diagnosis. We also want to increase access to evidence-based psychological support and therapy, including digital options in a maternity setting; the development of maternity outreach clinics, as I have already mentioned, that will integrate maternity and reproductive health; and psychological therapy for women experiencing mental health difficulties directly arising from or related to their maternity experience.
In conclusion, the Government and NHS are fully committed to reducing the number of babies who die during pregnancy or in the neonatal period, and to providing that absolutely fundamental and much-needed support for bereaved families.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to speak in this debate, which marks the 18th UK Baby Loss Awareness Week and the fourth debate in this place on the subject. I join the Minister in hoping that this will continue to be an annual event, as this is a really important subject on which we need to focus. I also welcome her comments on efforts to focus on prevention, to share examples of good practice and to learn from mistakes. I also want to put on record my thanks to midwives and obstetricians across the country, who do so much to deliver safe babies.
As a mum and a grandma, I can say that anyone who has ever known the joy of conceiving and giving birth to a child and the joy of watching that child grow and thrive knows how precious it is, and the very thought of losing that is something too painful even to contemplate. The fact is that, every single day, there are 650 miscarriages in the UK, which means that every single day, 650 women and their partners and families experience the most devastating loss. Every day in the UK, nine babies are stillborn, which means that 3,168 mums-to-be a year never get to keep the child that they have carried and loved for nine months. For every 1,000 babies born, between two and three will die before they are 28 days old. That is the equivalent of 2,131 babies every year. Somehow those parents have to find a way to go on. Baby Loss Awareness Week is about raising awareness of their suffering, and it is so important. It is also about finding ways to provide support and about highlighting the need for good care following a bereavement or miscarriage.
This week, bereaved parents and their families and friends will unite with each other and others across the world to commemorate the lives of babies who died during pregnancy, at or soon after birth and in infancy. I want to pay tribute to members of the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance. There are too many to mention individually, but those incredible charities and organisations are working together for change and tangible improvements in policy, research, bereavement care and support for anyone affected by the death of a baby at any stage. I want to thank them for the work that they do, and for reminding us that, first and foremost, this week is about remembrance.
The campaign to break the silence is crucial because miscarriage, stillbirth and infant death must not somehow become a guilty secret never to be told. The memories are painful, but precious, and the sharing of experiences with others is important. Many parents affected describe feelings of isolation, extreme sadness, anger and sometimes guilt. They need their experience to be listened to and acknowledged, because a loss of life matters and will always matter.
This week is also about raising awareness about pregnancy and baby loss in the UK and, crucially, it is a call for action. I want to commend the excellent “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” report published today. It is a call for mental health care for bereaved parents. Too often, they fall through the gaps in provision. The report illustrates a system that is at best insensitive and at worst totally inadequate. It is really hard to believe that anyone could ever think that it was appropriate for psychological support to be offered to a parent who has lost a baby on a neonatal ward with other people’s babies present. I was staggered to read also in the report of a bereaved parent turned away from bereavement counselling because they had not lost a loved one. We must do better.
A survey carried out this year found that 60% of bereaved parents felt they needed specialist psychological support for their mental health, but were not able to access it on the NHS. It has long been recognised that women who experience a stillbirth or neonatal death are four times more likely to have depression and seven times more likely to have post-traumatic stress disorder, yet currently, while there are pockets of good practice, provision is too often inadequate and reliant on a postcode lottery, and parents in need are falling through the gaps. This report is a call for the UK Government to act to ensure that all parents who experience pregnancy and baby loss and who need specialist psychological support can access it at a time and place that is right for them—free of charge, wherever they live.
I thank Members on both sides of the House who have on other occasions shared their very personal and painful experiences of loss. I also recognise the sterling work of the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss. Finally, but by no means least, I thank my hon. Friend Carolyn Harris for her powerful campaign that led to the establishment of the children’s funeral fund.
I hope that Members on both sides of the House can together acknowledge today that we have heard the call for action and that, most importantly, we guarantee that we will act. In 2020, I want to be standing here and thanking the Government for their achievements in this field.
It is a great privilege to speak from the Back Benches for the first time in over a decade following two extremely powerful speeches from both Front Benches. I thank the Minister of State and the shadow Minister for two extremely compassionate and understanding speeches in which they spoke about the sheer pain felt by so many families up and down the country.
I also thank the many hon. Members on all sides—my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach), for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), Mrs Hodgson and many others—who have spoken so powerfully on this matter. I cannot possibly compete with the power of their words because there is nothing that anyone can suffer more than the loss of a child. I just want to make one observation from my many years—some would say too many—as Health Secretary with respect to this issue, and that observation is about the impact on professionals.
When you go around hospitals up and down the country, and ask the doctors, nurses and midwives, “What is the most traumatic thing that has ever happened to you in your professional career?”, almost invariably they will say that it is when they lose a baby. We often talk about the trauma for the families, who of course are the primary victims in this situation, but we must never forget the people who are sometimes called the second victims: the doctors, nurses, midwives and other professionals who have to go home, worrying that if they had done something differently that baby might still be alive, and who have to come back to work the next day and struggle on, dealing with that incredible trauma.
In that situation, those professionals want nothing more than to be completely open, transparent and honest with the families and with their colleagues about what happened to ensure that lessons are learned and that that tragedy is never repeated again. But in the NHS today, we make that practically impossible. People are terrified of the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical Council, the Care Quality Commission and their trust. They are worried about being fired and they are worried about all sorts of consequences, so the one thing that should happen—the one thing that everyone in that situation wants to happen more than anything else, which is that lessons are learned from that tragedy—is often the one thing that never happens at all.
Let us remember that there are 1,400 neonatal deaths every year, as the shadow Minister said. That is about four every single day across the NHS. The great tragedy—not just in the NHS but in hospitals all over the world—is the fact that a tragedy can happen in Blackpool one day, and a month later exactly the same tragedy can happen in Cornwall. There has not been enough effort to try to share the learnings from such tragedies. I commend the efforts of the Government and my successor Ministers for doing everything they possibly can to put this right and to ensure that we really do become a learning organisation. In truth, though, this is a big job that will take a long time, because it is about changing culture.
The NHS needs to look at other industries that have successfully changed from having a blame culture to having a learning culture. The airline industry is the most famous example, but there are also the nuclear and oil industries. That job of changing culture will be our central responsibility if we are to reduce the agony for parents and the professionals involved in the care of babies. The most powerful way to change culture is to shout out loud and clear those human stories of the terrible loss involved, because that is what promotes change.
I finish by commending everyone involved in Baby Loss Awareness Week—the brave Members of this House who have spoken out, and given many others hope that they are not alone; the many brave members of the public who have relived their own tragedies over and over again to try to promote change in this area; and the Ministers concerned, who have a heavy responsibility when it comes to this agenda, and who I know take that responsibility with the utmost seriousness.
I begin by thanking Antoinette Sandbach for bringing forward this debate. She and I and other Members of the House share a particular interest in this issue. I can hardly believe that another year has passed and we are once again reflecting on Baby Loss Awareness Week, which culminates in Baby Loss Awareness Day on
Every single bereaved parent who has lost a baby feels exactly the same about their baby whose life was ended before it could properly begin. That is why I have used my position as an MP, as far as I can, to raise awareness of this issue and help break the taboo around this awful experience. Many Members across this House have done the same. Baby Loss Awareness Day and this week are important. Sadly, every year more people are drawn into the appalling statistics of those who have lost their baby in whatever circumstances.
The theme of this year’s reflection is access to mental health support for those who need it in the wake of baby loss. Who could argue with that? Indeed, only last week some of us were in this very Chamber discussing women’s mental health. Access to mental health support in the wake of baby loss is important not just for mums, but for dads, too, and indeed extended family members struggling with the loss of a baby whom they had expected to be welcoming to the family. Today, more families will have suffered a stillbirth and will somehow have to try to cope with this appalling trauma.
Mental health support is very important for bereaved parents who need it, not just from a compassionate or moral point of view, although those are important, but from a practical, social and economic point of view. In past debates on the issue, I and others have spoken about the fog of grief that comes from having to bury your baby—the bewildering sense of the world being turned completely on its head. While 50% of marriages end in divorce, parents who suffer the loss of a child are eight times more likely again to separate and divorce, heaping heartbreak on top of heartache. Easier and more prompt access to the correct mental health support could help mitigate that awful statistic, and perhaps help parents who are struggling with grief to stay married, return to the world of work, and remain economically active, which can in time prevent the isolation that grief brings with it too often.
Before this job, I ran a children’s hospice. We were able to provide wraparound care to the whole family. We worked with hundreds of families in my time there, and I am really proud to say that because of that care, not one family separated.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. That is the kind of support we need to put in place, and I am about to talk about wraparound care.
We know that bereaved parents are more likely to develop depression and other mental health issues, perhaps turning to drink or other forms of self-medication, because we know that those who experience stillbirth or baby loss are at a higher risk of mental health challenges. Given what we know, there is really no excuse not to have measures in place in this awful eventuality for those affected by baby loss. The aftermath of baby loss is no more or less traumatic for those affected than living through the immediate experience and the years following it.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She is making a powerful speech, and I strongly support her call for better access to mental health support. I think of the difference that the four-hour target made to quality of care and access to accident and emergency doctors and nurses where needed, and I wonder whether we need a similar target in place, to ensure that trusts and the NHS in general can be accountable for whether access to mental health support is given quickly enough to people who are bereaved in these circumstances.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The point I am trying to make is that because we know that these mental health challenges very often arise following baby loss, there is no reason why the infrastructure should not be in place for when these issues arise. Sometimes the demand is immediate, and sometimes it is months or years after. Sometimes people will choose not to call on these services, but the infrastructure needs to be there to ensure that people have access to it in a timely fashion.
Someone pointed out to me today a comment on social media from a chap who spoke about “awareness day fatigue”, but he also acknowledged the importance of those with lived experience feeling able and willing to speak about their experience of baby loss, because this can encourage others to talk of their own loss and perhaps seek the support and help they need. We with lived experience who choose to talk about it can also prevent others from going through the awful experience we had by raising that awareness, to stop other people joining the terrible club of which no one would ever wish to be a member.
Raising awareness is very important. It is not and must not ever become some trite stock phrase, although it may sometimes sounds so. It is important because every day I wish to God that I had had some more awareness of pre-eclampsia and HELLP syndrome. I may then have been in a better position—I am sure many mothers would say the same—to articulate what was happening to me, instead of being told by the Southern General Hospital that I was wasting their time when I turned up on the day I was due to deliver my baby and that the terrible pain I was in was normal. What did I expect? It wasn’t labour—go home and lie down. Could I not see they were busy? Had I known more about pre-eclampsia, I would have been able to ask to be checked specifically for that condition, because I was not tested for it. I would have been more assertive, instead of being made to feel like an hysterical older expectant mother.
Raising awareness really does matter. Information matters because it can make a difference between life and death. We know that, too often, mothers are not listened to. Raising awareness cannot be seen as a trite phrase or a box-ticking exercise, and I know that many who have lived with the loss of their baby would say exactly the same.
The chap commenting on these matters on social media is right to say that the lack of mental health support must be addressed. We cannot be discharging mums to send them home to their partners and families and leave them to get on with it. They must have the mental health support they need to help them navigate as best they can the biggest loss and the most appalling experience it is possible for them to have.
We have, over the years, come a distance in the realms of baby loss. We have, with some success, shone a light on it and worked to remove the taboo, but we still need to do more to ensure that the isolation of grief does not swallow up those affected by this loss, which goes against everything that nature would suggest. We need to continue to work to break down the isolation, and we can do that with the proper mental health support to help those affected to find their way back to some semblance of normality and find a path through their fog of grief, so that they can rebuild their lives, albeit around the loss that they have suffered.
It is shocking to learn that the majority of bereaved parents who need help cannot access it in an appropriate place and at an appropriate time. This is because perinatal mental health services are focused on women who are pregnant or have a live baby. Last week in the debate on women’s mental health, many of us spoke about new mums needing mental health support—and that is true: they do—but this need not mean and must not mean that those mums whose babies have died are forgotten. They must not be forgotten; they must be given the support they need because we know that they are at risk of developing mental health challenges. We need to do more to ensure that the mental health infrastructure they need is in place to support them. Women who have experienced stillbirth, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy are at a higher risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression than those who have not. They also display clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms from five to 18 years after stillbirth.
As I was reading some of the testimony from the Lullaby Trust in preparation for this debate, from women who had suffered stillbirth and described walking out of the hospital with no further contact about the support they might need, I recognised that because that, too, was my experience. I did not feel able to discuss my experience or participate in counselling, but that was just as well because it was never offered. In my case, the hospital was trying to dodge questions and withhold information about how my baby died.
In response to the point made by Tim Loughton, who is no longer in his place, the demand for coroners’ inquests—or, in Scotland, fatal accident inquiries—into stillbirths, where they are deemed to be in the public interest, has risen only because of hospital trusts and health boards pulling down the shutters when things go wrong. That is where that demand comes from, and that has to stop: it has to change. Parents do not want to consult a lawyer when their baby dies; they just want to know what went wrong and how it can be avoided. That is something health boards and health trusts really need to do more to get their head around.
I am pleased that in Scotland there has been new investment in perinatal mental health to ensure that there is support for bereaved parents prior to discharge and that there is appropriate signposting to third sector services that can provide bereavement and other mental health support. We can no longer turn a blind eye to or overlook those who fall through the gaps in our health system. There must be psychological support for those affected by the death of a baby if they need it.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, and I commend her bravery in speaking up on this again; I know how hard that is for her. Does she agree with me that there needs to be support for women entering a subsequent pregnancy after that as well? That could be quite retraumatising for some women and quite challenging to deal with, and they need special support for that as well.
I thank my hon. Friend, and I think she has made an excellent point. The shadow of a stillbirth will hang over any subsequent pregnancy, should it take place, and we need to be mindful of that.
Will the hon. Lady join me in this poignant debate in saying how dreadfully sorry we all are that, on
Absolutely. I absolutely share the hon. Lady’s sentiments. I think the important thing for all the people affected by that terrible loss is that they get the answers they need. We cannot turn back time, but what parents want are answers and explanations. To know that their baby mattered and that their loss is not going to be swept under the carpet is extremely important at those times.
I know there might be awareness day fatigue, but this particular awareness day does matter to those affected by baby loss. It is week of remembrance, culminating in International Baby Loss Remembrance Day on
This day is not just about remembrance of our lost babies, although that is extremely important; it is a reminder that those who live with this are not on their own. Sadly, thousands of people in the UK and millions worldwide have suffered this loss. There are many who do understand, and more and more of us are willing to speak out. If we can take some of the isolation out of the grief for our lost babies and if we can give better aftercare to the parents who have suffered this loss, perhaps we could all have better mental health, despite suffering a loss of such huge magnitude in our lives.
It is always a pleasure to follow Patricia Gibson, who has been a real support on the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss and who always speaks incredibly powerfully not only about her own experiences but about what needs to change in future. I am grateful, too, to the Leader of the House, who provided time for this debate, and to Victoria Prentis, who helped with a pincer movement to encourage him to table the debate.
I thank Will Quince, who used to co-chair the APPG with me, and I give thanks particularly to Mr Hunt, whose support for this issue when he was Health Secretary provided the political will to drive through the change that we have seen in the past few years, which has been incredibly important. It is an important testament and legacy that he has left, particularly given the reduction in numbers. There is a need for cultural change, and there is a need, too, for cultural change around mental health support, as seeking such support often had a stigma attached to it.
Mr Hammond, the former Chancellor, allocated £1.4 million of LIBOR funding to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital so that it could build a brand-new bereavement counselling centre. I recently went to see that centre, and it will be an exceptional resource in the north-west. Any parent who has lost a child, no matter how long ago, can go to Alder Hey and receive free support and counselling. I would like to make sure that people are aware of that. Alder Hey also operates a hotline that can signpost parents towards help. The Government can be really proud of the steps that they have taken to tackle some of the deep-rooted issues in maternity provision, stillbirth rates and neonatal deaths.
Progress achieved on the national bereavement care pathway should be celebrated. An alliance between the third sector and the national health service has achieved real change. Evaluation of the pathway showed that 92% of parents who had been on the pathway felt that they had been treated with respect; 89% felt that they had been communicated with sensitively; and 87% were offered access to ongoing emotional support after they left hospital. Trusts that have taken up the pathway have seen a real improvement in the care that has been offered to parents.
Further to the point made by the right hon. Member for South West Surrey, clinicians using the national bereavement care pathway felt that they were better prepared to communicate with bereaved parents, and the proportion had increased to 92%. The proportion of professionals who felt capable of discussing bad news with bereaved parents increased from 66% to 72%. There are other excellent results from the evaluation, but I will not go into them here.
Does the hon. Lady share my concern that that is not the case across all health trusts and that we need to make statutory provision?
I absolutely do, and I shall come on to that. Having been through the system in Wales, where absolutely no bereavement care at all was offered to me—a charity set up by a former Member of Parliament paid for me to have counselling from Alder Hey—I am as aware as anyone of the issues around access to support. Some 130 NHS trusts have expressed an interest in using the bereavement care pathway, and they should be encouraged to take up best practice.
It is not all good news, however. The reality is that while many hospital trusts are now putting that support in place, the gap in provision comes when parents go back into the community. It is there that the issues need to be tackled. The information gathered by the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance showed that there was a clear need for specialist psychological support for parents. A freedom of information request sent out by Sands in July 2019 painted a picture of very patchy support, with commissioners in over 86% of areas across the UK telling us that they do not commission specialist therapies to support bereaved parents. That is quite scandalous when we look at the good progress that has been made in the acute sector. That is where the gap is present.
Less than 40% of commissioners said that that support was available for both parents, so when it was available, it was only available for one parent. That is completely wrong, for all the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester has outlined. It should not matter whether someone is a mum or dad; they should be able to access specialist psychological support if it is needed. Why is that important? Some 60% of bereaved parents said that, in the end, they did feel that they needed psychological support. Certainly, I did not want to talk to a load of volunteers; I wanted to talk to a professional who could give me the tools and the understanding to cope with the loss of my daughter and to be able to go back to work and start functioning in a normal way.
It is right to acknowledge that women who experience stillbirth, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. I remember giving a speech to a City law firm, where I was told that it was extremely common that mothers never went back to work having lost a child, because of the impact of that loss on them. By investing in that support, we encourage the family to stay together and to get to a place where it is possible to live with loss and still contribute to society.
Where there has been a sudden or unexpected death, 39% of women three months after suffering an early pregnancy loss met the criteria for probable to moderate post-traumatic stress disorder. Some 68% of mothers and 44% of partners reported four or more negative psychological symptoms at 10 days. The important Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, which allowed some paid bereavement leave for parents, allows some time for parents to come to terms with the issues they face and, very importantly, to find the services that will help them to deal with the loss they have suffered.
I encourage Ministers to read the “Life after Loss” report, which was published last week by the Centre for Mental Health. I support the Minister in the ambition to roll out national centres that will permit parents to access support locally, working with commissioners and the third sector, which can very often have expertise in this area. Support can be commissioned locally without the need for infrastructure, because there is already a third sector organisation. I am thinking of the Petals Charity, for example, which provides counselling. However, its services are not provided all over the UK.
There is another really good example in Wales: 2 Wish Upon A Star. This charity is proactive and not reactive in its approach. It contacts parents within hours of them leaving hospital to discuss their loss and to see what support they need. It can then put a counsellor in a car and on the way to the bereaved parents within hours, rather than them having to wait weeks or months for a referral. If we could roll out that kind of service, delivered by the third sector but supported by the national health service, in areas where there are gaps in provision, that would make a huge difference to parents’ lives.
As chair of the all-party group on baby loss, I said that I would not only celebrate success but hold feet to the fire, so I ask the Government to undertake a review of the current provision, including the evaluation of the models of best practice involving parents and professionals, and to develop quality standards and national guidance to support those planning, funding and delivering specialist psychological support—that must be delivered at CCG level. Acute hospitals are really beginning to deal with this, but the provision at a local level needs to be addressed. I also ask the Government to provide guidance to support local services to effectively assess the psychological support needs of bereaved parents and develop pathways to meet those needs.
It is a real pleasure that we can speak in this debate—an advantage of not proroguing—at the beginning of Baby Loss Awareness Week. It shows the valuable work that is done in this House and that is achieved through cross-party working with a Government who have been really committed to pushing forward this agenda. However, there is more work to do, and with the previous commitment to try to put mental health services on a par with physical health services, this is an area that needs addressing so that that support is put in place.
It is a privilege to follow Antoinette Sandbach, who speaks from personal experience on this matter. Every year, she identifies the main issues that we still need to improve on. She is absolutely right to talk about the evaluation that shows where things are getting better, but it is also fair to say that the good practice is not consistently felt across the board, and that is what we need to aim for. She also spoke about the need to change the culture, which is really important. Mr Hunt also referred to that, and I welcome him to the Back Benches—I know that we had our disagreements as Front Benchers, but on this issue, there was a great deal of unanimity, and that is the spirit that we should carry forward. Both spoke about the need to change the culture and the length of time that that will take, but that is absolutely the right approach, because with all tragedies in the health service, most of the time people just want to know why something happened and how it can be stopped from happening again. The more that we can move away from the blame culture and get into a proper analysis of why things have happened and how we can prevent them from happening in future, the better the experience will be for everyone.
When I first spoke in a baby loss awareness debate back in 2016, I expressed the hope that this would become an annual fixture, and I am pleased to see that we have managed to do that despite the unpredictable timing of Parliament at the moment. This gives us a real opportunity to take stock of where we are and hopefully to set some benchmarks for future progress, because, as we know, every year there are thousands of tragedies. Tommy’s estimates that a quarter of pregnancies end in miscarriage. The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust tells us that one in 80 pregnancies is ectopic and Sands tell us, as we have heard, that 15 babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth every day. Those charities are just some of the 60-plus charities who collaborate to support this extremely important week. I echo the comments of hon. Members who have praised their work in this vital area, not just how they support people who have experienced their own personal tragedies, but how they work across the board to secure better outcomes for everyone. They not only raise awareness of baby loss, but work with health professionals to improve services and bereavement care and, critically, to reduce the number of preventable deaths.
Like others, I want to focus on bereaved parents and mental health support. As we all know from meeting bereaved parents, the feelings of loss and isolation are understandably overwhelming, and nothing can take away from that, but that does not mean that we cannot do more to ensure that the right care and support is in place at the right time so that those people can come to terms with their loss as best they can. We know from the evidence that good bereavement care can make a difference to parents and families and their experiences at this tragic time.
The sooner we can support more healthcare professionals in delivering good-quality care, the better. I welcome the roll-out of the pathway, but I urge the Government to redouble their efforts to ensure that all trusts and health boards adopt the pathway and ensure that all our healthcare professionals feel properly equipped to deal with bereaved parents, so that everyone across the board gets the correct and best level of support, which is what they truly deserve.
Not all bereaved parents will develop a mental health problem, but we must ensure that those who do can access specialist psychological support, that they can access it as soon as possible and at a time and place that is right for them, and of course that it is freely available to them. Sadly, as we know, not all parents can do that at the moment. Parents have told me that they are often not aware of the services available. Many leave hospital with no information about where they can seek support. Some are given information but then find that the support is not available for them at the time they need it—because of course there is a waiting list.
A survey by Sands earlier this year found that nearly two thirds of bereaved parents felt that, although they needed specialist psychological services, they could not access them on the NHS. This is equally a challenge for those who seek bereavement counselling for adult deaths, urgent referrals for which can take up to six months to process, which is far too long, I think we would all agree. In the words of one mother who contacted me:
“we weren’t offered any specialist help in terms of bereavement support. I visited my GP on a number of occasions and was advised I could see a counsellor but there was a waiting list. I was prescribed antidepressants which I refused to take as I was grieving, I wasn’t depressed”.
Many listening to this debate will recognise that experience. I hope we can learn that it is vital that the right support and treatments are available at the right time.
A new report from the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance reveals that nearly nine out of 10 clinical commissioning groups do not commission talking therapies specifically for parents, and where the services do exist, they are mostly for mothers only, meaning that the needs of fathers are often overlooked, as Will Quince has spoken about in the past.
There is of course much good practice out there, but it is sometimes reliant on charitable grants and third parties, meaning that the provision is patchy and at risk from wider funding decisions. I therefore support a call for a review of the current provision, including an evaluation of the models of best practice, involving parents and professionals in those conversations. We know that the need for psychological support following pregnancy loss and stillbirth is recognised in the NICE guidance and that the “Better Births” report, the maternity transformation programme and the NHS long-term plan all highlight the need to improve perinatal mental health care. These plans must translate into action to ensure that the needs of bereaved parents are explicitly addressed in quality standards and national guidance, in the training for the relevant healthcare professionals and in guidance and support for local services.
Beyond the major transformational strategies we have been talking about, we can also make simple, small changes that will make a difference to parents’ experiences. In the words of another constituent after her own bereavement:
“That moment, I know myself, stays with you as much as the birth and most of us end up bumping into other new parents carrying their bundles home on the way out. I feel a support worker or midwife could do with walking the parents out, helping the transition into the hands of family or friends go more smoothly would be extremely beneficial. Most of us are left with not even so much as a leaflet of where to turn to in crisis. Most of us haven’t had a follow up with a midwife or healthcare professional even though we have given birth and these unfortunate administrative errors occur far too often. I suppose support is the key issue.”
Those comments show that some simple, straightforward things can be done that need not cost the earth or require massive national strategies, but actually just need a bit more thought and organisation. I think we can all recognise the difficulty that that mother must have experienced.
Having participated in debates on this subject over the last three years, I know that Members have shown a great deal of personal courage by speaking about their own experiences. Three years on, we have shown that the message is going out to people that they are not alone. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), and to the hon. Members for Eddisbury, for Colchester and for Banbury (Victoria Prentis), for their work and for the way in which they have spoken about their own experiences. That contributes greatly to increasing awareness of baby loss awareness week, which has itself led to some local groups getting together. Next Tuesday my constituents will take part in the Wave of Light outside Ellesmere Port civic hall, which I think is a very good way of encouraging more people to come and talk about what they have been through. The more people who engage in that dialogue, the better.
I should like to be with those constituents next week, but I suspect that I shall be here, although my thoughts will be with them. I think that what we can show them today is that when the House puts its mind to it, we can work across parties and make things better for our constituents. Anyone who has heard the debate today will understand why it is so important that we do that.
I obviously associate myself with many of the comments that have been made today, particularly those of my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach and Patricia Gibson, who talked very movingly about their personal experiences.
I suppose that not many of us necessarily think about this issue if we have not experienced it, or think about the support that is available. I must confess that I had not considered the issue in any great depth, because I had had no personal family experience of it, and of course one assumes that all the services will be there to support people at this most vulnerable of times. It was not until someone came to talk to me about the project that I described in an intervention on the Minister’s speech—at that early stage, I was not sure whether I would have an opportunity to speak myself—that I gave any thought to the experience of bereaved parents in a maternity suite.
That brilliant project was initiated by the Health Tree Foundation in north Lincolnshire, which is the hospital charity for the North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust. I pay particular tribute to the member of my staff who raised the subject with me, Julie Reed, who is my community support manager. She tasks herself with going out and supporting local good causes, and as a result has managed to write funding bids and bring in more than £1 million. This was a cause that she took up on my behalf, and, through her brilliant ability to write funding bids, she helped to secure £22,500 towards the £175,000 project. A lot of people did a lot of work, particularly, as I have said, the Health Tree Foundation, and the maternity suite itself.
Let me say a little about what the suite does and what it means. It opened in July, and is known as the Cherished suite. When the experience was described to me of being in a maternity suite and being bereaved, it struck me that there were two things that a bereaved parent might not want to do. First, they might not want to go home very quickly, and secondly, they might want to be in the suite, but not necessarily surrounded by people whose children are being delivered and who are experiencing that most joyous of moments. The brilliant job that the midwives and all the professional staff do to support those parents was not in doubt. Rather, it was about the ability of bereaved parents to have a safe and quiet private space on the maternity suite, like every other parent, where they can enjoy that important time with their baby and bring their family in; a space where they will not be rushed out, but where they can stay for as long as they require. That is exactly what the Cherished suite, which is now open at Scunthorpe central maternity suite, is providing. It is on the maternity suite, but in a private, quiet area.
I want to quote the experience of one set of parents, who sadly lost their daughter Alicia in 2017, before the suite was opened, who have talked about what it would have meant for them:
“When we lost our daughter, we were in the middle of the delivery suite, surrounded by people doing their jobs and delivering newborn babies. Other couples were walking out with babies and it felt like we had been stabbed in the heart.”
Other parents who have experienced the same have described to me how they felt that they had in some way failed, which is a terrible thing to hear. Those parents continued:
“We didn’t have the opportunity to use a place like this to heal and recover from the heartbreak. It would have helped tremendously—it’s quiet and you couldn’t hear anyone outside the room”— a safe space for them to spend that time with their baby.
I am so proud that the Health Tree Foundation has been able to deliver that service for our area, because the suite is a place where parents can spend time with baby, but also where memories are made. The Health Tree Foundation provides memory makers, who do prints of baby’s hands, and even casts of legs and arms, and make teddy bears from the clothes that the babies would have worn. I hope that we can look at that idea, whether in the design of new maternity suites or in providing support for existing maternity suites, to ensure a place where bereaved parents can spend time with baby in privacy on the maternity suite, with the support of every other parent there, but in a way that is sensitive to their particular needs.
I should add that the suite of course provides all the necessary support and information that is so often required for ongoing mental health needs. I particularly associate myself with the comments of Justin Madders about the vital role that can be played by talking therapies, which is something that I have more personal experience of. Talking therapies are so undervalued. They can be used in so many ways, but this is one area where parents need to have absolutely guaranteed access to them.
I do not want to say anything more, other than to thank the health foundation in northern Lincolnshire and Goole for providing that service. I also thank the maternity staff, who were doing a brilliant job anyway in supporting bereaved parents, but who have got behind the project so enthusiastically and now have a special private place, as people walk into the suite, where they can do even more to support bereaved parents. We are of course not the only place where something like that happens, but I found it striking that it does not happen automatically and that there is not such a space everywhere. I agree with so much that has been said today and pay tribute to all those who have done so much in this area, both here and outside this place.
It is a real pleasure to follow Andrew Percy. My contribution to the debate will touch on a lot of what he said about the situation, which is undoubtedly true. It struck me again because of two constituents in particular who came to see me. I had my children at the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham. My constituents went in there expecting, as most of us do when we go into hospital to give birth, that they would be taking their baby home after a safe delivery. Emily was their second child, and she died—she was a stillborn baby. That was at the end of 2013.
Until I met Richard and Michelle Daniels, I had not appreciated some of the issues we are talking about. When I gave birth to my babies, I had two wonderful deliveries, although they were very painful. However, I do not talk too much about the great pleasure, joy and magic I experienced in becoming a mother on those two occasions. I felt real shock when Richard and Michelle came to tell me that, although they got the most terrific care, love and support from the remarkable staff at the QMC when Emily was born dead, there was no facility at all, as the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole described.
It is true that there is nothing worse that could happen to any of us than to lose a child, but it must be even more heartbreaking to lose a child and then to be surrounded by people experiencing all the wonderful joy and celebration of a new birth and of having a new member of their family, but not to have somewhere to be able to say goodbye properly or to have quiet time. People also need the opportunity to bring in other members of the family so that they, too, can say goodbye. I was just blown away in my shock and horror when I heard that, in Nottingham, we had no such suite at all in the QMC or the City Hospital. That had been going on for many years, and one can only imagine how many people have suffered in that way, given all the touching speeches that hon. Members have made.
In early 2014, Richard and Michelle Daniels set up a charity called Forever Stars. They poured all their remarkable energy and dedication into making a great success of it, and they have raised over £400,000. Their first project was to install a serenity suite at the QMC—a place where a couple can go in the event of an unsuccessful delivery and the loss of a child. They can say goodbye properly, in the way that has been described, and siblings and other members of the family can come along. In due course, there was another serenity suite, at the City Hospital in Nottingham—again thanks to the Forever Stars charity that Richard and Michelle set up. That is now in operation.
By a remarkable coincidence, the hon. Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince) set up their all-party in this place in 2015, and we had that first debate. I remember it distinctly. There were so many appalling stories that there was not a dry eye in this place, and that included your good self, Madam Deputy Speaker. All us were filled with a mixture of grief, horror and disbelief that so many people suffered baby loss with none of the proper facilities that they should have.
It is full credit to the Government of the time and to the former Secretary of State for Health, Mr Hunt, that they did not mess about. They took up the campaign, and huge progress has undoubtedly been made. It is thanks to a lot of cross-party working and the considerable efforts of the former Secretary of State and his team, as well as those two hon. Members and others, that we have seen such marked progress.
The work of Forever Stars continues. As you can see, Madam Deputy Speaker, I am wearing pink and blue. That was not necessarily my first choice to put on this morning. It was a bit of a bet with Mr Richard Daniels that I would do it. However, I wanted to do it because Forever Stars is painting Nottingham, and indeed Broxtowe, pink and blue. Like so many other charities that have come out of so much tragedy and that are doing great work, Forever Stars is raising awareness, on top of the other work that it does. We have heard why that is so important.
I, too, join the calls in the report that the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance put out today—“Out of sight, out of mind”—for specific work to be done to make sure we cater for grieving parents, siblings and other members of the family. I may one day be a grandparent, and it must be terrible for grandparents to see their own child and son-in-law or daughter-in-law suffer in the way that we know people do. We also know the effect these things have on siblings; we often forget them and how one explains things to them, and they often need support.
Forever Stars tells me that, in just the last 24 hours, it has had four calls from parents who have suffered a baby loss and who would very much like to be referred to the counselling or the psychological, and sometimes psychiatric, services that they desperately need. It is really important to ensure that those services are in place. I am told not only that 60% of parents surveyed want those services, but that nine out of 10 CCGs do not commission the talking therapies that Justin Madders rightly spoke about.
Forever Stars continues in its great work and is now raising funds to create a serenity garden for parents in Nottingham. There will be a service every quarter when parents and, of course, other family members can go along to say goodbye again to a child or baby they have lost.
It is really important to recognise that this place does some terrific work when it comes together in this way. The APPG has done that terrific work on a cross-party basis. It is all too easy in the current political climate for people to criticise Parliament and set it up against the people, but that would be wrong in many ways. This is an example of why that is just not true, because this place can do genuinely great work that touches the lives of real people.
The right hon. Lady is absolutely correct. When this House comes together and works properly, we do achieve what those who send us here expect us to achieve and hope that we will achieve. It is just such a pity that more people do not watch the proceedings on days like this instead of on days when the Chamber is crowded.
As ever, I am grateful to be called to speak, Madam Deputy Speaker, although I was not anticipating it because I was not here at the beginning of the debate. I can only apologise for that, but I was elsewhere on unavoidable duties.
This is a debate in which we love to hate participating. It is not a pleasurable experience for anyone who has lost a child, and I know that some Members across the House feel exactly as I do when speaking in this debate. Nevertheless, I am grateful for the opportunity to lay my annual asks on the table.
First, I must give an enormous amount of thanks to the previous Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, whose speech I am really looking forward to watching on catch-up tonight. I am immensely grateful, as are all of us who have been involved in this area for many years, for all that he did. It must be counted as one of his major achievements as Secretary of State that there has been a 19% reduction in stillbirths and an 8% reduction in maternal mortality since 2010. Those are really good figures, and I hope that he will look back on his career in many years when he retires—
I hope that my right hon. Friend will count that among his most important achievements. I expect that he said, as did Justin Madders, that blame is probably not the way to go, and that we need a cultural shift in the NHS, so my ask this year is that we should make maternal death a never event. Luckily, maternal deaths are rare—I was almost one of them myself—but making them a never event, with the definition and the muscle that that provides, would be very helpful.
With my prison service background, I should add that a child or, indeed, a mother dying in custody should also probably be a never event, with all the chain of investigations that should flow from that. I know that the recent death in custody is being very well investigated, and there is no need to comment further on that case now. The never event definition is helpful, because it sets in train a course of investigations that need not be blamed-filled but which are helpful for learning.
Sadly, the situation elsewhere is not as helpful as in this country. A baby dies every 11 seconds worldwide, and many maternal deaths are completely preventable. I am pleased that the Secretary of State for International Development has chosen to make maternity a priority for the Department for International Trade. He wrote an excellent article about it in The Times last week, and I encourage hon. Members to read that article.
The Secretary of State for International Development is helping members of the Royal College of Midwives to provide training in rural Bangladesh, and he is resourcing organisations that work with women who have had female genital mutilation performed on them and who have dreadful maternal complications as a result. He is working to provide vaccinations, which are so helpful in preventing the death of newborn babies. Across the board, the fact that maternity is now a priority for DFID is really helpful.
I close by thanking you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your support in this area and for allowing me to say a few brief words this afternoon, and by advertising the baby loss service at St Mary’s, Banbury at 6 o’clock this Sunday. It is an extraordinary event, and we have been doing it for only a few years. People came to that church in the first year who had never talked about their loss, and it is overwhelming.
Such services are taking place all over the country, as the hon. Member for Ellesmere Port and Neston said. Unfortunately we have not organised one in Parliament this year, as we normally do, because we are not sitting, but I am sure we will organise one in future years. I thank everybody who has taken part in this debate, which I think is now annual. I am thrilled that we have Government time, and I hope we have it again in future.
I have a couple of points for the Minister. First, there is a lack of trained paediatric nurses, particularly in palliative care, and anything she can do to encourage people to train in that vital specialism would be hugely appreciated.
The other point is that children’s hospices are wonderful, remarkable places, but virtually all their money comes from the public through fundraising. Again, if there is anything the Minister can do to give them just a base coverage of funding on a statutory basis, year in, year out, would make such a difference to their being able to commit to those services.
Finally, drawing on my privileged experience of running a children’s hospice and meeting hundreds of families, the one thing that strikes me most is that all those families say that what they liked best about and what they got most from the hospice was being able to talk about their child who had passed. I had not realised that most people out there do not do that. They said that friends would cross the street to avoid talking to them, not because they were being mean but because they did not want to burden them. They did not want them to cry or to crumble. Actually, the one thing those families want more than anything is to talk about their child, because that is what keeps them alive in their heart.
This debate is so important to everybody involved, and I make this plea to everyone watching: please, just talk to that person and celebrate their child. However brief their life was, it was an important life that we need to recognise.
I thank the Minister for Care, Caroline Dinenage, in her absence, for moving the motion. It is always a pleasure to follow Sarah Champion.
We have heard some marvellous speeches today about personal experiences, and every one of them has been very poignant and has encapsulated what this is all about. I have spoken to previous motions on baby loss, and I am happy to continue doing so in remembrance of those little lives lost.
The fact of the matter is that, since last year, more hearts have been broken, more arms have been left empty and more grief has entered homes throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That deserves recognition in the House this year and every year, as Victoria Prentis said.
This does not take away from anyone else who has contributed to the debate, but I would particularly like to mention the hon. Members for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince). In our debates in this House they have told us their personal stories and have helped us to understand exactly what it means to lose a child. One thing that came out of those Adjournment debates and those contributions in this House was the need to have a separate room in hospital where people can grieve and have privacy, and Andrew Percy talked about the one in his constituency. [Interruption.] I hope Members excuse me; I have a bit of a chest infection and am trying to keep it off if I can.
I mentioned the next thing to the hon. Member for Colchester and he can probably remember it: the importance of having faith involved, as people can use that to help get to the other side of the grieving process. Where there are rooms where people can have privacy, it is important that they can call upon someone of faith to come to give support. The hon. Member for Rotherham spoke about how important it is to have someone to speak to, relate to and understand.
Most miscarriages happen in the first 12 weeks, which is known as “early pregnancy”, and an estimated one in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage—it is one in five if we only count women who realise and report the miscarriage. About 11 in 1,000 pregnancies are ectopic. About one in 100 women in the UK experience recurrent miscarriages—three or more in a row—and more than six in 10 women who have a recurrent miscarriage go on to have a successful pregnancy. The risk of miscarriage greatly reduces in the second trimester—miscarriages then are called “late miscarriage”. My mother miscarried on three occasions, and seven in our family have had this happen; my sister also miscarried on three occasions. The girl who is, in effect, my Parliamentary Private Secretary and writes my speeches in this House—she is a very busy girl, as people would understand, given the contributions that are made—has also had two miscarriages.
On the number of people who have had difficulties, the problem we have perhaps relates to the level of focus on care, aftercare and counselling. I am not saying this is inevitable and will always be the case, but we do not have the necessary focus on counselling for the individuals and families who have gone through this traumatic experience. Unfortunately the fear of what they have been through sometimes means that they do not want to have another child and go through this again, so they are denied the opportunity to have a family because of what they have experienced; a lack of counselling means that that can sometimes be a fear.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention and I can relate it to my constituency and the people I have spoken to. The thing that sustained my sister, my mother and my PPSs was their faith, which is why come back to the importance of having faith, as I said to the hon. Member for Colchester. In the past year, I have known of two women in my constituency who knew that their baby would not live for more than a couple of hours after the birth yet they carried their baby to its full nine months and enjoyed those few hours together. I am a member of many organisations, one of which is the Royal Black Preceptory. We helped the father of a young child who was lost with a charity event at the bowling club in Ballywater to raise money for this issue, and we raised some £1,000.
I wanted to say all that because it is important, as everyone deals with things in their own way. About one to two in 100 women have a miscarriage in the second trimester. According to one study, once a pregnancy gets past six to seven weeks and there is a heartbeat, the risk of having a miscarriage drops to about 10%. Those are the facts and they are worthy of noting, but they cannot begin to deal with the process of grief that is suffered. It may sound comforting for people to understand that one in four pregnancies ends in a loss and so they are not alone, but, as one lady said, “I don’t want to be the one in four, I want to be the three who live their life as normal and don’t have this emptiness inside.”
It is important to note the facts, but it is more important to acknowledge the grief and the right to grieve. Long gone are the days of, “Just don’t talk about your loss.” We have learned that for those who wish to express themselves it is healing to do so. Some people need to talk about it, but some decide that they may not. Of course many women will never talk of their loss, and that too is part of their process and is to be respected. For others, the symbolism of a balloon release or the lighting of a candle is a way of acknowledging a life that did not blossom but was most definitely there.
We do not understand why many miscarriages take place, but with an NHS under such pressure—I say that really gently, because we have a wonderful NHS that does great work—we do not investigate until the third miscarriage. That in itself is incredibly difficult. I know of one lady whose parents, after encouragement by the midwife after her second miscarriage, paid for private care and for private tests and all the rest, to learn that taking baby aspirin would increase her chance of keeping the next little one. A baby aspirin once a day saw her have a beautiful baby girl. There could well have been another miscarriage had she not been able to seek private advice. When it comes to that example of how that lady dealt with a miscarriage and then had a child, I wonder whether the necessary advice is there in the system and throughout the process. I have said it before and I shall say it again: three miscarriages but no investigation is too much. I sincerely urge change in the NHS procedure. Perhaps the Minister will be able to respond to that point or give me some idea of where we are.
This debate cannot solve the issue of baby loss and grief, but it can validate the fact that a miscarriage was a loss. It happened and should be remembered, and we as a nation should mourn. The fact that a death certificate cannot be issued until 24 weeks must be reviewed. I find that quite incredible. It does not mean that it is not widely understood that someone has suffered through a death. And it is not simply the mother who suffers, but the father and the would-be grandparents, too. The hon. Member for Eddisbury referred to it, and although the hon. Member for Colchester has not spoken today, I remember his previous contributions. The wider family suffer as well. It is like throwing a stone into a pond: the ripples go right to the edge—they touch everyone in the family circle and all the friends. Everyone should remember that.
We must do more to recognise and support those who suffer from a miscarriage. A pamphlet in a cold, sterile procedure room is not enough. I read a little quote that touched my heart. This lady said:
“I carried you for every second of your life—and I will love you for every second of mine…Let sweet Jesus hold you until mummy and daddy can hold you”—[Interruption.]
Does the hon. Gentleman accept that it is very important and powerful when people are able to stand up in this place and talk with the experience and the big heart with which he is talking?
I thank the right hon. Lady for that intervention.
Let me read those words again:
“I carried you for every second of your life—and I will love you for every second of mine…Let sweet Jesus hold you until mummy and daddy can hold you—you have just reached heaven before I do.”
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent speech. The whole Chamber agrees with every word that he has just said and appreciates the way in which he said them.
Today’s debate has been incredibly moving and I am humbled to respond on behalf of the Opposition. It of course coincides with Baby Loss Awareness Week, which is an important opportunity for us all to unite with bereaved parents, and their families and friends, to commemorate the lives of babies who died during, before or shortly after birth.
I congratulate every Member who has had the courage to speak today about something as personal and devastating as baby loss. Drawing from our own personal experiences will undoubtedly help and bring comfort to the thousands of others who have been affected by this important subject. As you said earlier, Madam Deputy Speaker, today’s debate has once again shown Parliament at its best. I wish to reflect on some of the moving contributions we have heard.
Let me start by thank the hon. Members for Colchester (Will Quince) and for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach). The hon. Member for Colchester could not speak in this debate as he is now a Minister, but his bravery in bringing this issue to the House was remarkable. Collectively, we thank both Members for their incredibly hard work and great courage. On behalf of the official Opposition, I thank you both from the bottom of my heart.
Victoria Prentis spoke very knowledgably about the work being done by the Department for International Development in developing countries, which was very heartening. My hon. Friend Justin Madders spoke very powerfully about how important it is that we support bereaved parents—I will go on to talk a bit more about that in a moment.
Andrew Percy talked about bereavement suites in hospitals. That is an incredibly important issue and, indeed, it is something that I will take back and discuss with my own trust. My hon. Friend Sarah Champion discussed both counselling and family support. Mr Hunt spoke very knowledgably about the impact on health professionals and how it must simply be one of the worst things that they ever have to deal with.
Patricia Gibson spoke so powerfully about her own experience and, once again, showed great bravery. She also discussed how important it is that we are all aware of, and that we empower others to learn about, pre-eclampsia. We also heard from Jamie Stone and from Jim Shannon who gave us a very, very moving speech. I thank him very much once again for his incredible bravery.
All the charities that come together to collaborate on this commemorative event do amazing work supporting bereaved families. There are now more than 60 charities involved, and they have a huge impact on raising awareness nationally, and each organisation should be incredibly proud of everything they do and everything they have achieved in driving this agenda forward.
As well as using today’s debate to raise awareness, this is an opportunity to reassess the progress that is being made and to highlight the fact that, although excellent care is available in the country, it is not available to everyone everywhere. Every year, thousands of people experience the loss of a baby in pregnancy, at or soon after birth, and in infancy.
Unfortunately, it is not a rare event, and, as too many of us here know, it can happen to anyone. The Miscarriage Association has invited women to share their experiences, and the bravery of these women in sharing their stories is commendable. Angela has spoken about how her mental health deteriorated after her second and third miscarriages. She said:
“My mental health deteriorated after those two losses. I needed medication to get through my periods when they returned. I couldn’t go to the GP or the hospital without having a panic attack. I had horrible flashbacks of the miscarriages themselves. And although these subsided over time, I can still have a panic attack at the GPs without warning. It also started to affect me at work and in my personal life, because my self-esteem and self-confidence plummeted and I lost the ability to believe that I could do anything right. It was almost like when I lost the babies, I also lost some of myself.”
She has also spoken of the difficulty in talking about miscarriage and mental health, but the importance of doing so. She went on:
“I have also confided in a few close friends and that helps too. I still struggle asking for help, it is not something that comes easily to me, but I when I do, I am always grateful that I tried. It’s hard to break the silence around miscarriage and even harder to break it around mental health and miscarriage combined but I think we should try. Even if it just helps one person feel a little less alone.”
Unfortunately, there remains a tremendous taboo around baby loss, and many women report that their family and friends do not want to talk about their loss, and that can lead to an isolation and a disconnection from others, which means that parents can end up trapped by their own grief.
There is work to be done to break down the unacceptable stigma and, too often, feelings of shame that can surround baby loss. Whatever the circumstances around the loss of a baby, every single woman deserves respectful and dignified care that acknowledges her loss, supports her mental health and empowers her to make future decisions about having a child.
The care that bereaved families receive from health and other professionals following pregnancy loss or the death of their baby can have long-lasting effects. Good care cannot remove parents’ pain and grief, but it can help them through such a devastating time. In contrast, poor care can significantly add to their distress. Unfortunately, the standard of care in the UK varies between regions and even within settings, depending on the stage at which a loss occurs—from early pregnancy through to infancy. Although there is excellent care available in this country, it is not available to everyone. In England alone, there is still a 25% variation in stillbirths and, as a result, many parents do not receive the good quality bereavement support that they so desperately need after pregnancy or baby loss, and we have heard this afternoon what a difference that that can make.
We need to ensure that there is learning from every single miscarriage and stillbirth. Although we can rightly say that we are beginning to improve the approach to those dealing with the consequences of baby loss, it seems like we still have a way to go in understanding and really tackling its causes. According to The Lancet, the annual rate of stillbirth reduction in the UK has been slower than in the vast majority of comparable high-income countries.
It is also important that all parents who experience pregnancy and baby loss and need specialist psychological support can access it and can do so in a timely fashion. Too often, people who experience a psychiatric illness after their loss do not receive the support they need. I am proud that Labour supported this year’s Parental Bereavement (Leave and Pay) Act 2018. However, I know that many parents and caregivers entitled to bereavement support do not have access to appropriate mental health support. Right now, most mental health support is only available to mothers, and is focused on women who are pregnant or who already have a baby. This support often takes place in neonatal units, which understandably—as we heard earlier from the hon. Member for Brigg and Goole—can add to trauma.
Mental health support for those who have lost a baby must take place in appropriate places and must be available for the entire family unit including fathers, siblings, grandparents and so on. Coping with grief over the loss of a baby is something that all family members will need time and space for. Men and women may grieve differently, and it needs to be acknowledged that fathers can be forgotten in this experience, particularly as they may express less emotion, which can be misunderstood as indifference to the loss of their baby. Dad Keith has talked to the charity Tommy’s about the stillbirth of his second born, a son named Owen. He said:
“I had to go back to work straight away. It was a good distraction. I ran a lot and I kept doing that. I signed up for marathons. Running got me away for a few hours at a time and gave me a way to switch off. I wasn’t right for at least six months after. I was functioning but I was on autopilot. I wasn’t myself. People might not have noticed too much.”
I urge the Government to develop a national standard with guidance to support the planning, funding and delivery of specialist services with psychological support for those going through the loss of a baby. It is also important that bereavement-trained midwives or gynaecological counsellors are available in every hospital —not part-time, but full-time—whenever parents need them. Let us not forget that many stillbirths and neonatal deaths are sudden and unexpected. It is a hugely traumatic experience and people need support immediately, so trained individuals are so important.
I would like to end by saying a few words about the national bereavement care pathway. The final independent evaluation of the national bereavement care pathway wave of two pilot sites was published in May 2019 and provides evidence that the NBCP has improved bereavement care received by parents after the loss of a baby. It is commendable that both the former Prime Minister and the former Health Minister, Jackie Doyle-Price, both endorsed the roll-out of the programme. The NBCP is increasingly attracting interest from NHS trusts across the country, and I hope that many more adopt this approach.
In conclusion, the debates that we have had over the past few years and again this evening underline the importance of the work undertaken by hon. Members and the many charities in this sector. It means that the silence that Members have spoken about today is now beginning to end. I cannot overstate how courageous those who have spoken out about their personal experiences are, or how influential those interventions are proving to be. I hope that those who have spoken out continue to have the courage to talk about what we need to do to improve care and support for bereaved families.
What an important debate this has been, and that is of course thanks to the efforts of my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach and the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Will Quince, who has been sitting next to me throughout the debate. In fact, I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury still chairs the APPG on baby loss. This is the fourth year that the House has had this debate, and I hope that my hon. Friends continue to push for it to be held every year, forever. It is such an important time not only to focus on the areas that people feel we should be concentrating on, but also to focus on the achievements and to hear stories from so many people.
In the 10 minutes that I have, I would like to respond to some of the points made. I begin with my right hon. Friend Mr Hunt, the former Secretary of State, who, in his usual modest way, omitted to mention the incredible contribution he has made in this area. He spoke passionately about changing from a culture of blame to one of learning; he brought that about in the NHS through his own efforts when, while in the Department of Health and Social Care, he introduced the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch. He instructed it to undertake, I believe, 1,000 maternity investigations a year, including into stillbirths and other mortality issues.
My right hon. Friend asked how we will share lessons learned between trusts and improve patient safety. HSIB has established a process for doing that. The perinatal mortality review annual report will be published on Thursday, as I think he may know. The HSIB annual report will be published in due course. Both reports will begin to share some of the learning from more than 1,500 cases. We are doing more to share information when things go wrong, and as a result of the former Secretary of State’s initiative, when something goes wrong in one trust, we will ensure that it does not go wrong in another. We all hope that will be the outcome of HSIB. We cannot thank him enough, and I am sure we will be mentioning his efforts for many years to come.
Patricia Gibson spoke powerfully about her loss. One of the themes of the debate has been mental health and the support that those who have lost a baby, including fathers and others in the family, need at a time of loss. She moved me to tears. She spoke about testing for pre-eclampsia. In April, NHS England announced that it will make the placental growth factor blood test available across the country, in the light of evidence that the test speeds up the diagnosis of pre-eclampsia. I urge her to push for parity in Scotland, so that the same test given to mothers in England is made available to mothers in Scotland. I am sure that other Members will call for that in this place. I know that other Members in this House have suffered loss through pre-eclampsia. It is a dreadful condition. Our objective should be to do all we can to ensure that no mother has to go through that.
The Minister makes a very good point. I pay enormous tribute to my hon. Friend Patricia Gibson, who has done phenomenal work in bringing her experiences to the Chamber. I thank the Minister for her remarks. We may not always see eye to eye, but on this issue, it would be great if her Department and the Scottish Government worked closely together.
I have already sent a message to my team asking why the test is not being done in Scotland and what we can do to ensure that it is rolled out across the UK. If I can have those conversations with the devolved Administration, I certainly will, and I will certainly push that from my end and in my Department.
I share the sentiments of Stephen Gethins: collaboration is critical. One of my constituents raised with me concerns about the fact that there was no peer-to-peer support provided by the medical profession. She was dealing with her GP, but she relied for support on the charity SiMBA—Simpson’s Memory Box Appeal—a friend having referred her. Maximum co-operation and support is critical. Hopefully, we can share as much information as possible, so that we avoid people feeling that they are alone, or not being given the support that they need. I was shocked to hear what happened to my constituent. I would be keen to ensure co-operation and to promote it as much as I can.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his contribution, but I only have a few minutes left, so I have to move on.
My hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury asked what we are doing to eliminate the stigma around mental health. As the Minister for Mental Health, I can say that we are doing a huge amount. I do not know whether anybody in the Chamber has managed to see it yet, but a campaign video was released this week called “Every Mind Matters”, which the royals kindly voiced over. It was written by Richard Curtis and features many celebrities, including Davina McCall. It is all about people who everybody knows and recognises talking about their own mental health issues, to break down the stigma. That is just one of the many campaigns that are taking place.
As I said in the debate on women’s mental health last week, when somebody breaks their leg, we put a plaster cast on the leg, and that is fine. When someone has a mental health issue, they do not want to talk about it. I hope that the stigma is reducing and that there is parity and equality between mental health and physical health. Campaigns like “Every Mind Matters” are getting us there.
What I will say to my hon. Friend in response is that, in the long-term plan, the NHS commits to
“improve access to and the quality of perinatal mental health care for mothers, their partners and children”.
We have committed in the long-term plan that an additional 24,000 women will have access to specialist perinatal mental health support, including more support for fathers and partners. That is part of the £2.3 billion investment in mental health that this Government recently announced. I will say it again: £2.3 billion. That is over half the annual prisons budget. Of course, some of that money has to be directed towards mothers in this situation.
My hon. Friend Victoria Prentis made an important point about infant mortality in other countries around the world. The Secretary of State for International Development announced a £600 million reproductive health supplies programme to help end preventable deaths of mothers, newborn babies and children in the developing world by 2030. It will give 20 million women and girls access to family planning, prevent 5 million unintended pregnancies each year up to 2025 and focus on the most vulnerable women, including FGM survivors. We are committed to working with Gavi, the Vaccines Alliance, to vaccinate a further 300 million children in the world’s poorest countries by 2025.
My hon. Friend also talked about making maternal mortality a never event. I am not sure that that will be an achievable objective, but NHS England is supporting the establishment of maternal medicine networks, which ensure that women with acute and chronic medical problems have timely access to special advice and care at all stages of their pregnancy.
Justin Madders spoke about grief. Grief, for me, is the last taboo; it is the one thing that people still do not talk about. People still do not talk about how grief affects them, and I hope that some of the investment we are putting into mental health services and community services will help people to address grief.
My hon. Friend Andrew Percy spoke about somebody who works in his office who has raised funds for the cherished suite, and Anna Soubry spoke about the serenity suite. Over 50% of hospitals now have such suites, which are so important. I do not want to reiterate what anybody has said, but the fact that babies are born in a part of a hospital that is traditionally filled with joy is incredibly difficult. My hon. Friend the Member for Colchester has told me that it makes such a difference if people have somewhere to go and even to stay overnight with their baby, and where the family can go. Over 50% of hospitals in the UK have these suites, and I am going to ask that these suites are made available in the maternity areas at all the 40 new hospitals that are being built. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I will ask; I will certainly push.
I want to continue with the points raised, and please pull me up if I miss anybody out. Jim Shannon spoke so passionately—thank you. I know he has spoken in every baby loss debate we have had, and he has also spoken in the past about the important role that chaplains play in such situations. I would like to thank him for his incredible contribution. He asked about the pregnancy loss review. It is currently working with key partners to make recommendations to the Government about improving the care and support that women and families receive when experiencing a pre-24 week gestation baby loss. We are hoping the report will be published in due course and not too long from now.
I would like to speak about an area that I have particularly focused on, which is group B strep support. I have spoken about this many times, and I had my own Adjournment debate on it before I was a Minister. When I arrived in the Department, I set five key priorities, and this is No. 1 in the key priority areas because this in itself will prevent infant mortality. Group B strep is a leading cause of bacterial infection in newborn babies—just to put that on the record. I fully support the review that is taking place, and I hope that it has some further information so that we can make progress on this in, I hope, the not-too-distant future.
Sarah Champion spoke about hospices. I have Keech Hospice in my own constituency. I think hospices and their role is slightly outside the debate, bearing in mind the level of investment that we are putting into mental health services and counselling services. Somebody mentioned improving access to psychological therapies and the importance of talking therapies. I hope that any mother or family who needs mental health counselling as a result of baby loss will in future be able to access those services. I will write to her about the role of hospices in this particular area.
I appreciate the support from Members on both sides of the House in relation to the maternity safety ambition. I echo your words, Madam Deputy Speaker, about the tone of this House in such important debates. One of the most important things to come out of the debate today is the importance of learning for improvement and what we are beginning to learn through the perinatal mortality review tool and the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which I have mentioned, that was introduced by the former Secretary of State.
I would like to remind Members that the NHS is still—and the NHS in the UK is still—the safest place in the world to have a baby: 0.7% of all births result in a stillbirth or a neonatal death. Having said that, on a day like today, 12 babies in England and 15 across the UK will be stillborn or die soon after birth, and many more families will lose a baby through miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and other causes. We are, however, making progress: in 2015, the figure was 17 babies a day. Maternity and neonatal safety initiatives are beginning to improve outcomes, with most of the anticipated impacts still to be realised, as safety improvements are embedded in maternity and neonatal services and as we learn more from research and investigations about which babies die and why.
Finally, as we have discussed, the theme of Baby Loss Awareness Week 2019 is psychological support for those bereaved parents who need it. I understand that a working group is being convened to support the development of maternity outreach clinics that will integrate maternity reproductive health and psychological therapy for women experiencing mental health difficulties arising from and directly related to the maternity experience. I will undertake to ask this working group if it could consider extending the maternity experience to those who have lost a child in pregnancy, during labour and childbirth in the neonatal period.
I would like to finish by thanking all the midwives, doctors and healthcare support workers who do such a fantastic job in delivering more than 600,000 babies successfully every year and in helping the parents who, sadly, do not experience the happiness of a healthy baby.
Thank you. What an excellent, calm and constructive debate.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House
has considered baby loss awareness week.