NHS staff ‘terrified’ to speak out on baby deaths due to blame culture – Jeremy Hunt

Tory former health secretary Jeremy Hunt said doctors, nurses and midwives are “terrified” of speaking out about baby deaths because of a “blame culture” within the NHS.

Speaking on Baby Loss Awareness Week, Mr Hunt (pictured) told the Commons losing a baby is devastating for families, but lessons are not being learned to prevent future tragedies because of a fear within hospitals of repercussions if people speak out.

He said: “We must never forget what are sometimes called the second victims, which are those doctors, nurses, midwives, professionals who have to go home worrying that, maybe if they had done something differently, that baby might still be alive.”

He added: “Those professionals want nothing more than to be completely open and transparent and honest with the families and their colleagues about what happened to make sure that lessons are learned, and that that tragedy is never repeated again.

“But, in the NHS today, we make that practically impossible. People are terrified about the NMC, the GMC, the CQC, their trust, they are worried about being fired. They are worried about all sorts of consequences.

“So, the one thing that should happen, the one thing everyone in that situation wants to happen more than anything else, which is that lessons are learned from that tragedy, is often the one thing that never happens.”

He said the “blame culture” needs to be changed to a “learning culture” to prevent tragedies from recurring.

He said this is a “central responsibility” if the “agony” parents and professionals are facing is to be reduced.

Health minister Caroline Dinenage said 600 stillbirths could be prevented annually if all maternity units adopted national best practice guidelines.

Speaking during a Commons debate on baby loss, Ms Dinenage said a new programme is being rolled out across the NHS in England to reduce the number of preventable stillbirths.

She added: “An evaluation of the saving babies lives care bundle found that clinical improvements such as better monitoring of a baby’s growth and movement in pregnancy, as well as better monitoring in labour, meant that maternity staff have helped save more than 160 babies lives across 19 units.

“An estimated 600 stillbirths though could be prevented if all maternity units adopted a national best practice.

“A revised version of that care bundle is currently being rolled out across England.”

She said the Office for National Statistics this summer reported that since 2010 the stillbirth rate in England has fallen from 5.1 per 1,000 births to four per 1,000 in 2018 – a fall of 21%.

SNP MP Patricia Gibson (North Ayrshire and Arran) told the Commons her son had been stillborn in 2009.

She called for better access to mental health support in the wake of baby loss. She said it is important for mothers, fathers and other family members who have to cope with the “appalling trauma”.

She added: “Women who have experienced stillbirth, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancies are at a higher risk of post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression than those who have not.

“They also display clinically significant levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms from five to 18 years after the still birth.”

Independent Antoinette Sandbach spoke about the importance of parents being able to access specialist psychological support if needed.

The MP for Eddisbury, who lost her baby son in 2009, said she had wanted to talk to a professional, adding: “To give me the tools to be able to go back to work and start functioning in a normal way.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss co chair said she would “hold feet to the fire to undertake a review of current provision, including the evaluation of the models of best practice involving parents and professionals, to develop quality standards and national guidance to support those planning the funding and delivery of specialist psychological support”.

The provision at a local level, she said, needed to be addressed.

DUP MP Jim Shannon broke down in tears during his contribution in which he spoke about some of his Strangford constituents’ and family members’ experiences of baby loss.

He said: “This debate cannot solve the issue of baby loss and grief, but it can validate the fact that this miscarriage was a loss and it did happen, it should be remembered, and we as a nation should morn with you.”

Becoming tearful, Mr Shannon continued: “I believe we must do more to recognise and support those who suffer from a miscarriage.”

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