Government launches baby loss certificate scheme to ‘recognise grief of parents’

Babies stillborn before 24 weeks do not need to be officially registered, leaving some parents feeling ignored, ITV News's Ben Chapman reports

A government baby loss certificate scheme designed to recognise the grief of parents who lose a baby early in a pregnancy has been launched.

The voluntary scheme offers those who experience a loss pre-24 weeks’ gestation a certificate to formally recognise the devastating impact.

Babies stillborn before 24 weeks do not need to be officially registered, leaving some parents feeling ignored.

The new certificates, which are not compulsory, will be official but not legal documents.

The idea was formed as part of the government’s response to the independent Pregnancy Loss Review, with parents able to access the free service on Thursday.

The certificates will be available for either parent to access following a loss under 24 weeks since September 2018, with the government planning to expand eligibility in the near future.

On a visit to a family bereavement centre at the maternity unit, Maria Caulfield, Minister for the Women’s Health Strategy, said parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks can feel there is a “lack of recognition of that baby”.

Speaking at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south-west London, she said: “Getting an official certificate means a lot.

“Parents feel it’s so important to see their baby’s name on a certificate that they can share with family, and friends and remember that baby.

Health minister Maria Caulfield during a visit St George's Hospital in Tooting. Credit: PA

“We’ve had parents user-testing the system which is why it’s taken a little bit longer to get up and running than we would have liked.

“It’s a very difficult time for parents, even if they don’t do it straight away… so we want to make it as easy as possible.”

The minister was shown around the unit’s specialist bereavement suite, which offers a comforting and private setting for families dealing with the emotional and physical challenges of perinatal loss.

The suite at St George’s was refurbished in October after the family of a baby who died after birth raised more than £80,000 towards its renovation.

Not all hospitals have such facilities, and Ms Caulfield was told by midwives on the visit that they should be “standard” in maternity units.

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The minister said: “Having a facility like this where mums are not on a maternity ward, where they have the time and space to spend with their baby before they have to leave hospital is crucial.

“Part of our pregnancy loss review is seeing how we can get that as a standard facility in all maternity units.

“There’s a number of things that we can do, that will make a difference, but that is on top of trying to reduce the number of deaths from stillbirths and neonatal deaths in the first place.”

Asked about calls to introduce statutory leave for bereaved parents who have lost a baby before 24 weeks, she said: “We are looking at that. As a department, we’re leading the way in supporting employees at the Department of Health and Social Care.

“There’s nothing formal at the moment, but a bit like we’ve done with the menopause, in encouraging employers to look after their staff, both mums and dads. It’s really important.

Health minister Maria Caulfield (centre) during a visit St George's Hospital in Tooting, south west London. Credit: PA

“Many employers want to support those parents that work for them, but aren’t always sure how to so it’s about raising awareness and showcasing best practice that will really help parents at difficult times.”

Whilst the scheme is seen as a positive step, many think that the certificate doesn't go far enough.

Kath Abrahams, chief executive of Tommy’s, the pregnancy research and baby loss charity, told ITV News: "We're really pleased that the government has introduced baby loss certificates, but we'd also like to see a strong commitment from government to collecting and recording the number of miscarriages that happen every year.

"Unless we record the data, miscarriage largely remains a hidden problem," she added.

The new scheme is being launched today in England only, although people in Scotland can already apply to have their loss recorded in the Memorial Book of Pregnancy and Baby Loss Prior to 24 weeks, and receive a certificate of inclusion in the book.

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