Reducing Baby Loss — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:13 am on 20th July 2021.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 10:13 am, 20th July 2021

It is a pleasure to see you back in your place again, Mr Gray, after the operations you have had. I am very pleased you are back in Westminster Hall. I thank Cherilyn Mackrory for leading the debate. It is a pleasure to follow Sarah Owen and the contributions from other hon. Members.

Very personal stories have been told, some of which have been raised in earlier debates. That does not lessen the pain and heartache that we feel. I imagine the introduction was not easy for the hon. Member for Truro and Falmouth, given the grief and tragedy she has had to deal with after the loss of her little baby last year. As politicians, we often disagree—we can agree to disagree and are given this platform to represent our differing opinions. However, this issue has brought us together and it is heart-warming to discuss a topic that has touched us all in some form and enabled us to come together. My mother had five miscarriages, my sister lost three babies and the young girl who is the PPS in my office had two, so this issue is very real to myself.

Estimates suggest that there are 250,000 miscarriages in the UK every year. One in five pregnancies miscarries and there are 11,000 emergency admissions to hospital for ectopic pregnancies. Those figures sadly represent the mothers, fathers, grannies and grandas who have suffered a heartbreaking loss. I stand here today as someone who has witnessed the effects that this can have on a family. I extend my sympathies to those who have been faced with this in the past and those who unfortunately will be in the future.

The impact of baby loss is difficult enough and I have no hesitation in saying that the covid-19 pandemic has not made these situations any easier. I had multiple constituents contact me regarding hospital appointments and scans. They expressed concern that restrictions only allowed an isolated appointment. A number of MPs—some here and others not—have raised this issue with Ministers and asked them to address it. It has always made me think of those who went through the tragedy of a miscarriage or pregnancy complications and, in some circumstances, went through it all alone. As an example, I remember my mother. We had a shop in Ballywalter. My mother had a miscarriage and the next day she was back in the shop working again. That is how things happened in those days of long ago.

I have heard multiple reports from those in my constituency. One is a student midwife studying in Glasgow. She said that although tests can sometimes not identify any major issue, having efficient staffing levels and more adequate nurses and doctors allows staff to catch issues earlier. When responding, could the Minster give some assurance and encouragement that staffing levels will be sufficient to ensure that there is oversight and that these issues do not happen? An additional step that we as elected representatives can take is to ensure there is sufficient funding to employ more healthcare professionals, if this is what staff are telling us they need—and the staff are telling us that. We need to respond to that.

This is not the responsibility of the Minster but to give the figures, the latest report has shown that the neonatal mortality rate—deaths in the first four weeks of life—is the highest in Northern Ireland, when compared with England, Scotland and Wales. We have an issue back home, which is a devolved matter that the Minister Robin Swann is directly looking at.

When it comes to baby loss, hospitals do not have enough counselling services for parents who have suffered miscarriage, stillbirths and neonatal deaths. There need to be more trained counsellors in our hospitals to act at immediate effect. Baby loss can be prevented through increased research. Again, I urge the Minster and her Department to allocate funds for this.

I am a person of faith, as hon. Members know, and I believe it is important to have church representatives, be they leaders or those with pastoral abilities, to respond to people in hospital when they need it most. Has that been available for those who seek assurance at a particularly difficult time? Life is precious. There is nothing more valuable than the people we have around us and the loss of a wee baby, who has not even had a chance at life, occurs all too often. The Royal College of Midwives stated:

“Maternity and health services cannot do this alone, fantastic as their efforts are.”

We must add more support to our health service on baby loss. I am pleased to see the Minister, and look forward to her response to assure us on this issue.

I very much appreciate the subject of this debate, which is

“the national ambition to reduce baby loss.”

That ambition is shared by so many. I assure those going through the process that they are not alone. It is so important that people realise that they are not alone and that many others out there are trying to help them through those trials. Baby loss has touched the lives of so many, including mine. I am proud to stand here representing those who wish that those babies were with us today—they will not be forgotten. I call on the Minister to commit more time and more financial support to the national ambition to reduce baby loss. If we achieve that, we will have achieved a whole lot.