REDUCING THE RATE OF STILLBIRTHS
Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State in England announced in November 2015 the Government’s aim to halve the number of stillbirths by 2030. This ambition was included in the Government’s Mandate to the NHS (The National Health Service – the publicly funded healthcare system in England – similar to the Health Service Executive) for 2016-2017. They also aimed to tackle the number of infant brain injuries which occurred either during or after labour / birth. Following this announcement, a guidance entitled ‘Saving Babes’ Lives, A Care Bundle for reducing Stillbirths’ was published by the NHS England on the 21 March 2016. The Guidance highlights four significant areas to reduce the number of stillbirths:
- 1. Improving fetal monitoring during labour- An abnormal fetal heart rate may often be the only indication that a baby is in distress (potentially caused by the lack of oxygen). If a baby is deprived of oxygen for a considerable period, it can have devastating consequences. The baby’s brain cells start to die, with consequent brain injury, which may lead to hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (neurological injury caused due to lack of oxygen), which may cause cerebral palsy, seizures, developmental delay and learning disabilities. Unfortunately, the deprivation of oxygen may be fatal, resulting in the baby being stillborn;
- 2. Enhancing detection of growth restriction by monitoring and recording on growth charts – This is the single largest preventable group;
- 3. Reducing smoking in pregnancy – Research shows that one in ten women smoke during pregnancy. The Guidance recommends that all women should be offered a carbon monoxide test at their ante-natal visit and support to cease smoking should be provided;
- 4. Fetal movements – Fetal movement is a good indication of a baby’s wellbeing. There is a myth that during the last trimester babies do not move as frequently due to the fact that the space for movement has reduced. It is hoped that by encouraging more women to count their baby’s kicks daily, that any reduction in movement can be detected at an early stage.
In England five in every 1,000 births result in a stillbirth and it is hoped to reduce this by 2.3 in every 1,000 births by 2030. According to the HSE one in every 200 births results in a stillbirth in Ireland. While this is only a Guidance and is only applicable in England, one would hope that the Health Service Executive would issue a similar mandate. A stillbirth is a devastating and traumatic bereavement for parents and their families and anything that aims to reduce the rate of stillbirths should be welcomed.
If you or a family member have been affected by a stillbirth or by any of the issues raised, please contact our expert Medical Negligence team who specialise in medical negligence and can offer you legal advice: –