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Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of Business of the House (Prorogation) – in the House of Commons at 6:38 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care 6:38 pm, 8th October 2019

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.