New powers to investigate stillbirths proposed

Coroners could be given new powers to investigate the deaths of stillborn babies under proposed Government plans.

The changes, which would apply to all full-term stillbirths occurring from 37 weeks of pregnancy in England and Wales, are the subject of a consultation launched on Tuesday.

Health minister Jackie Doyle-Price said holding independent inquests would help bereaved parents get answers over what went wrong following the death of their child.

Coroners can currently only hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after being born and, when a pregnancy that appeared to be healthy ends in stillbirth, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch must look into it.

The new powers would allow coroners to investigate and make recommendations to help prevent future avoidable deaths.

Ms Doyle-Price said: “We want to do everything we can to make pregnancy safer, by continually learning to improve the care on offer so fewer people have to experience the terrible tragedy of losing a child and those who do get the answers and support they deserve.

“Rates of stillbirths in England are the lowest on record, but we’re committed to delivering on our ambition in the NHS Long-Term Plan to accelerate action to halve this number by 2025.

“This is a complex issue and it’s important we get it right by listening carefully to those who are affected by these issues, so I urge everybody to have their say on this consultation.

“By sharing your experiences, you can ensure any decision we make puts women, loved ones and their babies first.”

Justice minister Edward Argar said: “A stillbirth is a tragedy which has a profound effect upon bereaved families. We must ensure that every case is thoroughly and independently investigated.

“These proposals would ensure that bereaved parents have their voices heard in the investigation, and allow lessons to be learnt which would help to prevent future stillbirths.”

The rates of stillbirths in England and Wales were the lowest on record in 2017.

Data from the Office for National Statistics shows the stillbirth rate has fallen by nearly a fifth (19.2%) since 2007.

The joint consultation from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Health and Social Care will close on June 18.

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