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New powers to investigate stillbirths proposed in England and Wales.

It has been announced today that Coroners in England and Wales may be given new powers to investigate stillbirths, helping bereaved parents understand what went wrong, why and hopefully prevent more babies from dying.

Currently in the UK, Coroners can only hold an inquest if the baby showed any signs of life after being born, with current legislation meaning that neither a stillbirth or a foetus is classed as a ‘deceased person’.

A change in the law will bring England and Wales in line with Northern Ireland, where, following a landmark ruling in 2013, it was held the “Coroner can carry out an inquest into the death of a stillborn child that had been capable of being born alive.”

At present the hospital caring for the mother will investigate the death of a child following a healthy pregnancy, and a safety investigation funded by the Department of Health and Social Care may also look into it.

While some parents are satisfied with existing processes, some have raised concerns along with SANDS, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Charity who describe the current system as “wholly inadequate” and have “supported calls on the Ministry of Justice to broaden the jurisdiction of the coroners so coroners are able to investigate a stillbirth, should a parent believe that the hospital’s internal review process does not adequately answer questions around their baby’s death.”

The joint consultation, from the Ministry of Justice and Department for Health and Social Care will run for 12 weeks, with ministers consulting on:

  • Coroners in England and Wales having powers to investigate all full-term stillbirths, occurring from 37 weeks pregnancy
  • They would not have to gain consent or permission from any third party in exercising this power
  • The coroner would consider whether any lessons could be learned
  • Their investigations would not replace current investigations by the hospital or NHS agencies

If the powers are given to coroners to investigate stillbirths, it is hoped more lessons will be learned, more parents will be given closure and stillbirth numbers reduced.

Let us take it from here.

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