Stillbirth – still a mystery for the NHS?

Posted on: August 15th, 2012

The most recent studies indicate 11 babies are stillborn in the UK every day. In 2009 the UK ranked 33rd in a list of 193 countries. Despite decades of research into cot death, its causes, and preventative measures available, there is still little advice publically available to expectant mothers to give themselves the best chances of avoiding a stillbirth.

Of the causes given for stillbirths, 29% are placenta difficulties, 12% infections, 9% umbilical problems and 6% congenital abnormalities. This leaves 30% of cases undiagnosed and leaving expectant parents without any answers as to the reasons for their loss. This is perhaps made worse by antenatal programs in the UK where little education about the risk of stillbirth is given, or any of the risks of compromised labour which can also result in a child suffering a long term disability.

Doug Miller, Clinical Lawyer at Coffin Mew, is regularly investigating stillbirths in south coast hospitals. “The most common problem is a lack of monitoring in the later stages of pregnancy approaching a due date. When my own children were born, I was shocked at the apparent lack of monitoring just before they were born, if there is no apparent risk factor, it’s hard to get more than the standard 20 week scan and then you might only get a 36 week scan. Anything can happen between then and expected delivery at 40 weeks.”

When a stillbirth occurs parents are ill-prepared to cope with the outcome. They have so many questions and there is little that medical practitioners can offer to help them understand why the tragedy has happened to them. Many hospitals have protocols to help staff assist parents. However, the grieving experienced by these families is like no other; and, as good as systems and protocols are, they can’t replace the fact that many parents just want help to understand why they have had to experience such a terrible occurrence.

“We are surely at a time when the UK medical profession can offer to find more defined causes for stillbirth to ensure risks to UK parents are kept to a minimum. By identifying the risk factors, hospitals could offer more scans for “at risk” parents and hopefully avoid what is a tragedy for them as well as reducing the overall shocking statistics.”