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Calls for law change of inquests into stillborn babies

A baby girl died due to 'gross errors and mismanagement' by a hospital where her parents both work.

Baby Harriet Hawkins was delivered at 37 weeks nine hours after she died causing her parents to call for a change in the law regarding inquests.

Sarah and Jack Hawkins argue their daughter's death was 'completely avoidable' and if inquests were held into previous stillborn deaths she may have survived.

Currently, if a baby dies after 24 weeks of pregnancy, an inquest is not held. Mr and Mrs Hawkins believe problems could have been identified and changes made if this law was changed.

Lesley Herbertson, senior solicitor at Potter Rees Dolan, said:

The benefit of a prompt and effective investigation into all potential medical errors, including those ending in stillbirth, cannot be underestimated both in terms of helping those involved to recognise and learn from their mistakes but also in providing more of an understanding for family members about the circumstances of their loss.

In most of the cases involving stillbirth or death shortly after birth that we have dealt with there has been an investigation (often referred to as a serious untoward incident or SUI investigation) but we often find that there is very little documentation, including witness statements, behind the SUI which begs the question as to how thorough and objective it has been.

Multiple errors by the hospital led to Harriet's death including failing to perform a cervical exam before discharging Mrs Hawkins and failing to diagnose active labour.

The hospital also left Mrs Hawkins in labour for more than nine hours after Harriet died and they struggled to find a foetal heartbeat, mistaking Mrs Hawkins' heartbeat as her baby's at one point.

After challenging a cause of death as an 'infection', Harriet's death was upgraded to a serious untoward incident (SUI).

Hannah Bottomley, clinical negligence solicitor at Potter Rees Dolan, said:

Acting on behalf of families who have lost children during or shortly after birth we are often in contact with Coroners. I think it is fair to say that during the course of an Inquest a significant amount of additional information comes to the fore and that is to the benefit of both the family and the medical professionals involved.

The Inquest process allows members of different medical teams and professions to come together and provide information about their involvement in an incident which can often be key in identifying where something has gone wrong. The collaborative nature of an Inquest means that teams who may not work together have the opportunity to listen to other points of view and can recognise where different practices may have an impact.

For more information on inquests following a fatal accident caused by clinical negligence, visit our page.

Lesley Herbertson is a clinical negligence solicitor here at Potter Rees Dolan. Should you have any queries about clinical negligence issues or indeed any other aspect of this article and wish to speak to Lesley or any other member of the team please contact us on 0161 237 5888 or email Lesley directly.