Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of Business of the House (Prorogation) – in the House of Commons at 5:10 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Julie Cooper Julie Cooper Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) (Community Health) 5:10 pm, 8th October 2019

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.