Coroners could investigate deaths of stillborn babies

Coroners could investigate full-term stillbirths for the first time. Credit: PA

Coroners could be given new powers to investigate the deaths of stillborn babies under proposed Government plans in a bid to help bereaved parents understand the reason why their baby has passed away.

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 which will run for 12 weeks.

The move is intended to help bereaved parents understand what went wrong following the death of their child and prevent further baby deaths.

Coroners will be able to make recommendations to prevent further deaths. Credit: PA

Currently, coroners can only hold inquests for babies who have shown signs of life after death, and when a pregnancy that appears to be healthy ends in stillbirth the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch will investigate.

Coroners investigating full-term stillbirths can make recommendations to help prevent future avoidable deaths.

Health minister Jackie 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."

She added: "By sharing your experiences, you can ensure any decision we make puts women, loved ones and their babies first."

The joint consultation will run for 12 weeks. Credit: PA

The joint consultation from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Health and Social Care wants input from bereaved parents and organisations that support them and health professionals.

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, having fallen almost one fifth (19.2% since 2007), however nine babies are stillborn every day in the UK - one in every 225 births.

Kate Mulley, director of research, education and policy at stillbirth charity Sands, said: “At Sands bereaved parents often tell us how vitally important it is to understand why their baby died and that the best legacy for their baby is to ensure that lessons are learned to prevent future deaths.

“We believe their views must be taken into account when determining any changes in the role of coroners.

"This consultation by the Ministry of Justice raises important questions and we would encourage anyone affected to make their views known.”

The 12 week consultation runs until June 18.