Reducing Baby Loss — [James Gray in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:29 am on 20th July 2021.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Justin Madders Justin Madders Shadow Minister (Health and Social Care) 10:29 am, 20th July 2021

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Her speech gave a very clear example of how that can be of benefit not just to the parents, but to the wider system. Parents will always want to know why this has happened to them. It will not always be possible to give an answer, but if we can do more to look at that, it would be of great benefit.

My hon. Friend Olivia Blake spoke in November’s debate as well as today, and her contribution was incredibly moving. She raised the issue of research and the need for more funding to be brought into this area. Like many Members, she talked about the huge inequalities in perinatal outcomes. She also raised an important point about data collection, which will of course inform policy moving forward. It is not just about collecting data, but about collecting it in a timely manner and accurately.

Peter Gibson mentioned the experience of his constituents Claudia and Andy, and he made a very important point about statutory bereavement leave, which we ought to look at again.

The comments of my hon. Friend Lilian Greenwood about her own trust, the death of baby Winter, and her constituents Jack and Sarah, who had a similar loss with Harriet in 2016, were telling. That really was a case of many of the issues being repeated, and it sounds to me as if the trust has not done enough to learn the lessons. My hon. Friend also made a vital point about parental involvement in the review process. It seems to me that 2016 is an arbitrary date, and I encourage the Minister to engage in a dialogue with parents to make sure that the scope of the review is as wide as it can be.

My hon. Friend Fleur Anderson made an excellent speech, highlighting just how far we still have to go with obstetrics and how inequalities in outcomes still exist. She made the important point that these issues need to be addressed in conjunction with those who have experienced a loss. Parental involvement is a theme that has come through several times today. She also made a very important point about the culture, which is not always the best for raising concerns and learning from past experiences.

My hon. Friend Ian Byrne also mentioned continuity of care and the workforce challenge, something that most Members raised. He said that postcode, ethnicity and income should not be telling factors in outcomes. He also told a very moving story about one of his constituents, who suffered their own loss. Unfortunately, it seems that the failings that were identified there will resonate with many trusts.

My hon. Friend Sarah Owen spoke incredibly movingly today, as she did in the previous debate. She brought home how difficult it is for those who have successful subsequent pregnancies still to have to deal with previous losses, which are still on their minds, as one would expect. Again, continuity of carers and workforce issues were raised. She made a very important point about vaccines and the admissions that we have seen in recent weeks of pregnant women with covid. A very important point was put to the Minister about the priorities for booster jabs, which I hope she will address. The point my hon. Friend made most powerfully was about the three miscarriage rule, and the way she spoke brought home how cruel it is. It really does need revisiting.

Finally, Jim Shannon gave a very heartfelt speech. Again, he raised a number of issues about staffing.

I am nearly out of time, so I will make just a couple of points. A number of Members touched on issues that have arisen during the pandemic. We know that there has been reduced access to face-to-face appointments. Partners have sometimes been excluded, leaving women to receive this terrible news on their own. That has obviously been deeply isolating for mothers, but also for fathers. Virtual appointments just do not allow for the compassion and assurance that is really needed in those difficult moments. Of course, even if the woman has had her partner with her, the wider family has not always been able to comfort them during those difficult times.

We know that, for those who have had a loss, time is of the essence. There is a direct correlation between when someone receives mental health support and how long it is needed. A survey by Sands found that nearly two thirds of bereaved parents who felt they needed psychological support were unable to access it on the NHS. We really need to do much better on that.

Finally, I want to take a few moments to recognise the fantastic work that the more than 60 charities that collaborate together in this area do and the way they support anyone who has been affected by pregnancy loss or the death of a baby. They work very constructively with health professionals to improve services and reduce deaths. I also pay tribute to Donna Ockenden and her team for the work they are undertaking. There is no doubt that the more work they do, the more it becomes apparent that there is an awful lot more to do.

It is now approaching five years since we had the first of what has become an annual debate on baby loss in the House. Those debates have seen the House at its best. Members recall their own experiences, and no one should underestimate how difficult that must be. That plays a vital role in helping to inform policy, but it also says to those who may be going through these awful experiences that they are not alone.