Jeremy Hunt pledges coroner investigations to help families grieving from stillbirth

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

Families suffering from the grief of full-term stillbirth or life-changing injuries to babies will be offered an independent investigation by a coroner, Jeremy Hunt has announced.

The Health Secretary will outline his plans in full during a speech on maternity safety on Tuesday in which he will detail how the Government wants to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and severe birth-related brain injuries by 2025.

"The tragic death or life-changing injury of a baby is something no parent should have to bear, but one thing that can help in these agonising circumstances is getting honest answers quickly from an independent investigator,” Hunt will say.

"Too many families have been denied this in the past, adding unnecessarily to the pain of their loss.

"Countless mothers and fathers who have suffered like this say that the most important outcome for them is making sure lessons are learnt so that no-one else has to endure the same heartbreak. These important changes will help us to make that promise in the future."

As part of the plan, the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, which was established earlier this year, will review hundreds of referred cases of stillbirth, early neonatal death and severe brain injury.

Coroners currently only probe the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, and not the deaths of full-term babies who died prior to or during birth.

"For too long, parents have not been consulted and lessons have not been learned despite research repeatedly finding that many deaths are preventable and are related to the quality of care mothers and babies receive," said Dr Clea Harmer, chief executive of Sands, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity.

"Parents must be assured of a high-quality investigation, with their voices at the heart of any review into the death of their baby.

"This will require leadership at each trust and health board to commit to learning from every death in an open and honest way, and NHS staff must have the support, training and time to conduct reviews rigorously."

Measures to be announced by the Department of Health will also include a pledge to reduce the national preterm birth rate from 8% to 6%, which would mean 10,000 fewer premature babies per year from 2025.

"I know that parents will be happy to hear that this Government places such a high priority on giving babies the best start in life and we look forward to playing our part to make this ambition a reality," said Jane Brewin, chief executive of charity Tommy's.