Parents to be offered independent investigations following stillbirths and Inquest Laws review

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November 28, 2017 | By Janet Baker |

November 28, 2017 | By Janet Baker |

Jack and Sarah Hawkins, who are represented by Switalskis’ Janet Baker, have welcomed today’s announcement by the Government that independent investigations will be offered to families who have suffered the trauma of a stillbirth. They also welcome the promise by Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to review inquest laws to enable coroners to investigate full-term stillbirths.

The couple’s baby – Harriet – died on 17 April 2016 following a mismanaged labour at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust. Some 16 months after her death, they are still waiting for the independent investigation report into the death of their baby to be released.

They have been campaigning hard for the changes that Jeremy Hunt announced today and are delighted that they, along with other parents and campaign groups, have been listened to.

Like them, thousands of families who have suffered the trauma of stillbirth or life changing injuries to their babies will be offered an independent investigation to find out what went wrong and why.

Jack and Sarah Hawkins have released the following statement in response to the announcement:

“We are absolutely delighted by today’s announcement. It is a huge step in the right direction. It’s taken us 19 months to get an external, independent review into the circumstances surrounding baby Harriet’s stillbirth. With the help of our legal team at Switalskis Solicitors, we’ve had to fight every step of the way for answers, this is despite medical practitioners having a professional duty of candour. We hope that the government will now support the Private Members’ Bill that calls for changes to inquest laws to enable corners to investigate stillbirths.”[/cs_text][x_custom_headline level=”h2″ looks_like=”h3″ accent=”false”]Improving maternity safety[/x_custom_headline][cs_text]Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has said the NHS in England must do better at learning from mistakes to cut the number of deaths and injuries in childbirth.

The Government will also bring forward from 2030 to 2025 the ambition to halve rates of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths and brain injuries occurring during or soon after birth – a move which would save more than 4,000 lives.

In a major speech focusing on maternity safety, the Health Secretary has announced the Government’s intention to look closely into enabling, for the first time, full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law.

As part of plans to give grieving parents a better, more comprehensive explanation of what went wrong in their own situation, hundreds of stillbirth, early neonatal death and brain injury cases each year will be referred to the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch, the new NHS safety investigator led by safety experts.

The Government will also work with the Welsh Government and other stakeholders as it looks closely into giving coroners powers to conduct investigations into stillbirths. At present, coroners can investigate only the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born. They cannot investigate cases in which full-term babies appear to have died prior to or during birth.

All proposals to change the law will be subject to public consultation. Jack and Sarah believe Harriet’s death was completely avoidable. Harriet was completely normal, but died intrapartum as a result of a mismanaged labour at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Jack and Sarah are blowing the whistle on the gross errors made by NUH and the endemic failures and cover-ups by the Trust who seek to hide the true extent of the problems within their group of two hospitals (Queens Medical Centre (QMC) and Nottingham City Hospital).

Harriet was not the first to die. There have been several before her, and several since her. Between April 2014 and February 2017 there were 35 stillbirths, and since March 2015 – and contrary to standard practice – the Trust had not conducted Serious Untoward Incident (SUI) Investigations into any of these stillbirths. Following continued pressure from Jack and Sarah the NUH decided to review one year’s worth of stillbirths, and upgraded ten of them to SUIs. Had an inquest been held into other stillborn babies at NUH, they would have identified problems within the hospital and prompted changes that would have prevented Harriet’s death.

BBC Coverage of today’s announcement, including Jack and Sarah’s story can be viewed here.

The couple also conducted an interview on BBC Radio 4 at 7:15 following the announcement.

Jack and Sarah Hawkins have been represented by Janet Baker, Head of the Clinical Negligence team at Switalskis, Sheffield.

Janet Baker

Janet is an experienced specialist and nationally-recognised expert in Clinical Negligence claims. She has developed a particular specialism for birth-related matters such as stillbirth and Cerebral Palsy. She is ranked in Band 1 for Clinical Negligence in Sheffield by Chambers and Partners and she has made regular appearances in national media. Janet's profile