Stillbirths and neonatal deaths: The Ockenden Investigation

Mon 12th Sep 2022

A stillbirth is defined as a baby dying at 24 weeks’ gestation or more. Sadly, statistics suggest that one in every 200 pregnancies in the UK ends in stillbirth. The cause of a stillbirth is often not known but can be linked to complications with the placenta, such as placental abruption (when the placenta starts to separate from the uterus after the 20th week of pregnancy – a major risk factor for stillbirth).

Other causes can be a birth defect or the mother’s health. In some cases, no cause can be found.

Sometimes clinical mistakes can lead to stillbirth or neonatal death. Clinical mistakes include:

  • failing to monitor reduced foetal movements,
  • wrongly interpreting test results during pregnancy
  • failing to act on test results which highlight a problem, such as the treatment and diagnosis of preeclampsia, a condition which causes high blood pressure in the mother
  • failure to treat infections in the mother, such as Group B Streptococcus. This is a common type of bacteria that can be passed from the mother to the baby and can lead to sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia, resulting in death or severe injuries such as brain injury, cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, and severe learning difficulties.

Getting answers

What I have found when dealing with these cases is that often when this devastating event happens, parents do not necessarily question it. They are going through the grieving process and that takes time. They may have a feeling that something went badly wrong and that is when they start to question the circumstances of what has happened. They want to know whether something could have been done and the death prevented.

How we can help

This is a very difficult time for parents who might have lost their confidence in the hospital. It might be that they have gone through the hospital’s internal complaints process and have not had their questions answered.

We find that very often parents are not looking for financial compensation necessarily, but more importantly, the reassurance from the hospital, or indeed, health trust that they will learn from the mistakes made to ensure that they do not happen again.

Losing a baby during pregnancy or at birth is a heart-breaking and distressing experience that has long-lasting impacts. The loss of a baby can have a huge psychological impact and can affect the parents’ ability to work and their mental well-being. There are organisations out there that can help, including Baby Lifeline and Sands.

We know that nothing will ever make up for the loss of a baby, but redress in the form of compensation can help the parents access the specialist services they need, such as therapy and counselling, loss of earnings and costs, including funeral costs.

We hope that the latest review by Senior Midwife Donna Ockenden into maternity services at Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust will go a long way to improving maternity care across the UK for families now and in the future.

For more information about this subject or for help with legal advice, contact us on 0800 328 3282 or by the online form.

Mon 12th Sep 2022

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