The proposals aim to help bereaved parents gain answers on what went wrong and why, and to help prevent more baby deaths.
Under the proposed system:
- Coroners will have powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths occurring from 37 weeks of pregnancy
- The coroner will consider whether any lessons can be learned which could prevent future stillbirths
- Coroners will not have to gain consent or permission from any third party in exercising this power
- Coronial investigations will not replace current investigations undertaken by the hospital or NHS agencies
In addition the proposed system will ensure that both bereaved parents and medical staff are involved at all stages of the process.
Currently, coroners can only hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after being born. They cannot investigate where the pregnancy appeared healthy, but the baby was stillborn. In these circumstances the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch must investigate the death.
Concern with existing process
While many parents are satisfied with existing processes, some have raised concerns about the inconsistency of investigations and have called for a more transparent and independent system.
Ministers are therefore asking for views on whether coroners should be able to investigate stillbirths. As judicial office holders, coroners would not only be able to provide parents with much-needed answers but also make recommendations to prevent future avoidable deaths.
Health Minister Jackie Doyle-Price said the government wanted to do everything possible to make pregnancy safer.
“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.”
Tommy’s Chief Executive, Jane Brewin, said:
“This consultation raises some important questions and we would encourage anyone affected to have their say. Tommy’s knows how crucial it is for bereaved parents to understand why their baby died, but we are also aware that it is a devastating time for families, and we must be sensitive to their needs and expectations. While we need to learn as much as possible from these tragedies so that we can reduce the UK’s stillbirth rates, the most important thing at this stage in the consultation is that anyone affected has the opportunity to share their views. Their views must be taken into account when determining any changes to the role of coroners.”
The joint consultation from the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Health and Social Care seeks a wide range of views, from bereaved parents, the organisations that support them or that provide advice to pregnant women, researchers, health professionals and healthcare providers, as well as those working for coronial services.