Grieving Peterborough parents’ pleas over daughter’s death leads to law change calls

A dad’s desperate plea for answers into his daughter’s death has led to calls for a change in the law to prevent other parents from suffering the same anguish.

Sunday, 17th March 2019, 5:00 am
Simon, Michelle and Darcey

Last week the Peterborough Telegraph featured the story of Darcey Bates, who was born stillbirth in January 2014.

Both the East of England Ambulance Service and Peterborough City Hospital have carried out reviews into Darcey’s death, but her parents Simon and Michelle do not believe all their questions have been answered.

This includes why the ambulance service allegedly downgraded the couple’s 999 call to non life-threatening on the day of Darcey’s death when a very pregnant Michelle was bleeding heavily at home.

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However, they have been left powerless for the past five years as currently coroners can only investigate deaths of a child when they have lived independently of their mother.

Mr Bates supports calls for the law to be changed so stillbirths can be investigated by coroners, and he wants it to be retrospective so he can finally discover exactly what happened in Darcey’s final hours.

He said: “This law needs to be retrospective for any parents so that in all existing, ongoing cases they get the answers and truth they should be entitled to as a parent, and birth certificates should be issued.

“All we got was a death certificate and a baby’s funeral.”

MP for Peterborough Fiona Onasanya did not respond to a request for comment, but North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara said: “I am very sorry to hear of the sad circumstances surrounding Darcey. If there is cause for concern, as there clearly is in this case, then there should be a process to look into and consider those concerns.

“An inquest does seem to me to be the appropriate way forward. However, if the current law does not allow for inquests in cases of stillbirths, then I would certainly support a review of the law.”

Mr Bates, from Walton, is now asking the Care Quality Commission in Cambridgeshire for an investigation into Darcey’s death. He has also requested that both the ambulance service and hospital reopen their investigations, but has been left frustrated.

The ambulance service - which told the PT it could not comment on individual cases - told Mr Bates that too much time had passed, while the hospital’s head of midwifery Fran Stephens told the PT: “The clinical team has now met to review the facts of the case and has concluded that a further investigation will not result in any new outcomes.”

In November 2017 then Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he wanted to see inquests for babies who die before birth.

Currently the Ministry of Justice, with support from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), is leading a review on whether the law should be changed to permit coroners to investigate stillbirths.

A DHSC spokesperson said the country is on track to halve the rate of stillbirths by 2025.

He added: “Every loss of a child is a tragedy. We want the NHS to be the safest place in the world to have a baby and it is testament to the hard work of our wonderful NHS maternity staff that the stillbirth rate is the lowest on record.”

A Private Member’s Bill by Conservative MP Tim Loughton was due to return to the House of Commons on Friday to allow for amendments made by the House of the Lords to be considered.

The bill, if approved, would require the Secretary of State to prepare a report on whether, and if so how, the law ought to be changed to enable or require coroners to investigate stillbirths.

After the report has been published, the Lord Chancellor would be able to amend a previous act to allow or force coroners to conduct investigations into stillbirths, and specify the circumstances in which those investigations would take place.

Miscarriage and stillbirth charity Tommy’s said 3,200 babies were stillborn in 2017 in the UK, at a rate of 4.2 stillbirths for every 1,000 births.

Kate Mulley, director of research, education and policy at stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands, said: “Sands welcomes the proposal to extend coronial powers to investigate stillbirths.

“Hospitals’ internal review processes should involve parents and answer their questions about why their baby has died. But when those questions are not answered, we believe the coroner may play a vital role in providing answers, ensuring that lessons are learned and mistakes are not repeated. But the inquest process will not be appropriate in many cases of stillbirth; coronial investigation into stillbirths should happen in close consultation with parents. In ensuring the rights of some bereaved parents it’s important to avoid unintended negative consequences for other parents who may not want an inquest.”

She added that a public consultation will be key to make sure the law ensures a “clear pathway” for investigations.