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Sands Awareness Month June 2016

Medical negligence lawyer Maria Panteli considers the importance of Sands awareness month

New born baby
Maria Panteli is a partner at Leigh Day specialising in clinical negligence claims involving the delayed diagnosis of breast cancer, retinopathy of prematurity, birth injuries and spinal cases.
June is Sands Awareness Month, a month dedicated to increasing awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death and the everlasting impact of losing a baby before, dur-ing or soon after birth.  In the UK, in 2014, 5,558 babies died just before, during or soon after birth.  This is over 100 babies every week.

Sands (Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society) is a UK charity which offers support to parents whose baby dies during pregnancy or soon after delivery.  Sands campaigns tirelessly to raise awareness of stillbirth and neonatal death, to improve the standard of care and services offered to bereaved families and to promote research into practices that could help reduce the number of baby deaths each year.

The pain of losing a baby for parents and families is devastating, painful, and a source of deep sadness and isolation.

Stillbirth is not a rare tragedy.  Stillbirth is the death of a baby before or during birth after 24 or more weeks of pregnancy.  In 2014 in the UK, one in every 219 births was a stillbirth.  This is around 10 babies a day.  Many people think that stillbirths occur because the baby was born too soon or was too sick to live as a result of a genetic or developmental problem.  

However, only around 10% of stillbirths are caused by a fatal congenital abnormality.  Around one-third of stillbirths happen at term (which is after 37 weeks of gestation).  What is worrying is that, although there has been some decline in the stillbirth figures over the last 20 years, the number is still very high and much more needs to be done.

A neonatal death is the death of a baby within the first 4 weeks of life.  Most of these babies have a congenital disorder or were born prematurely.  In 2014, in the UK, 1,995 babies died in the first 4 weeks of life.  This is one in 384 babies.  Although this number has fallen over the last decade because of advances in medical knowledge and medical care, more needs to be done to reduce this number.

Whilst some of the deaths may not be avoidable, many of these deaths, particularly when they occur at term, could have been avoided with better care.  In some cases, babies die because of failures of care.  

Sands believes that many of these deaths are preventable and that this level of baby loss is completely unacceptable.  It is imperative that we identify what went wrong so that practices can be changed and we maximise opportunities to improve services and care.

Sands is committed to reducing the number of baby deaths by funding research in order to collect the evidence to change practice and to ensure that parents’ voices are heard at the highest levels.

Sands campaigns for:
  • Resources to be sufficiently allocated to better support those parents who ex-perience the death of a baby
  • Improvements in maternity services to reduce the unnecessary loss of babies’ lives
  • A comprehensive review of all stillbirths and neonatal deaths so that we can learn what went wrong and change practice accordingly
  • Increased funding for research into the prevention of stillbirths and neonatal deaths

Janet Scott, head of research and prevention at Sands said:

“The question about why your baby died never really goes away.  For some parents there’s a definite cause but for many there isn't and it can be a source of deep sad-ness and anxiety.  We are working at Sands to help promote both prevention strate-gies and a set of research priorities that’ll answer the questions so many parents are left with.”

Maria Panteli, partner in the clinical negligence department at Leigh Day said:

“We are committed to supporting Sands’ important work and campaigns and to sup-porting parents and families who have been bereaved.  Parents are usually in deep shock when they have suffered the devastating loss of their precious baby.  

"It is often only through our investigation that parents find out the reason why their baby died and civil legal action is often the only way for this sort of investigation to take place and for changes to be made so that other parents can avoid the terrible loss that they have suffered.”

Maria’s former clients have said:

“Through this incredibly difficult and tumultuous time you've provided us with a real sense of reassurance, that V’s case was being handled in a supportive and professional manner.”

– Ms D and Mr B

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