Baby Loss: 13th October 2016

Anna Soubry (Broxtowe) (Con)
It is always with great care that one treads into some areas of one’s own life, but, like many hon. Members, I remember around that 21-week or 22-week point of pregnancy—obviously I am addressing the women Members in the Chamber—having that marvellous, magical moment of what the books describe as a fluttering. You suddenly realise then that the nightmare of morning sickness and the other afflictions that there often are in pregnancy are all about the new life there within you. I suspect that I am not alone in this but that many hon. Members of both sexes have had that moment of looking into the Moses basket and knowing that the next time you look into it that bundle of life that you bear will be in it. That is extremely exciting, and, the truth is, also really rather frightening, especially when it is your first child and so you have obviously never had a baby before. I absolutely cannot imagine what it must be like—something experienced by so many in this Chamber who have spoken today with such great courage—never to have that Moses basket filled with the joy of the child that you have borne for well over nine months.

I warmly congratulate my hon. Friends the Members for Eddisbury (Antoinette Sandbach) and for Colchester (Will Quince) not only on securing this debate but on the great work they have done. No one could been unaffected and unmoved by the incredibly sad stories of the hon. Members for Lewisham, Deptford (Vicky Foxcroft) and for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson). ​If I may say so—and I do so with no sense of lessening the terrible story we heard from the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran—we were all particularly struck by what the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford experienced. I was not just struck with great sorrow, but, I have to say, I also felt anger rise within me. What happened to her was outrageous. I want to be made certain that what happened to her will never happen again to anyone in our society. Obviously, I extend that wish to the experiences related by everyone who brought to this place today either their own experiences or those of their constituents. We must learn the lessons from all of those experiences and do everything we can to make sure that babies do not die in the first place, so that we do not have the high rates of stillbirth that we have heard about or babies dying in the early months of their lives. But in addition, the treatment of both parents, as we have heard so eloquently expressed, must change.

I want to hold a spark of hope in my mind that what happened to the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford was a one-off, but sadly I have no doubt that it was not. But I would like to think that, given the passage of time, we can be confident that that kind of experience is now extremely rare. We must all work to make sure that no one ever again suffers what she did or what the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran suffered.

I will make a short contribution about bereavement suites. My remarks are based entirely on the experience of two of my constituents. I first met Richard Daniels for reasons with which I need not trouble the House, and he and his wife have now become friends of mine. Members can imagine, as can anyone who hears their story, that there was much sympathy and real concern at the discovery that when their baby Emily was born in a stillborn birth at the Queen’s Medical Centre, in 2013, there was no bereavement suite. I had both my daughters there; I found that fact quite astonishing, as I know everyone else did who heard their story.

Hon. Members have already discussed this. There is no greater tragedy for any parent than the loss of a child, and, although there are no degrees of grief, I genuinely cannot imagine any greater tragedy and loss than to lose a baby in the circumstances that we are all now becoming more aware of. And then—and, let us be honest, this is almost cruel—while the rest of us are celebrating with balloons and relatives coming along, to be there with that terrible grief, which cannot really be described if it has not been suffered, and to have to sit with your loved one while all that jollity is going on around you because there is nowhere to go to grieve, and to have your private last moments with your baby before they are properly buried, is just appalling. I was horrified to learn from my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury that 25% of hospital trusts still do not have bereavement suites.

I am not one of those who says that it is just the role of the NHS to provide those suites. When a terrible tragedy happens, whatever it might be, human beings want to come together to make good of something that has been wholly horrible. I therefore have no difficulty in such circumstances with the idea of parents working hand-in-hand with hospital trusts that do not have a bereavement suite to create one.

Nottingham University Hospital Trust did much to make sure that when Richard and Michelle Daniels decided that they would raise money to fund such a ​suite, it was a relatively easy journey. It was not all easy—there were many bumps along the way—but they got through it. They started with a plan to raise £25,000 and within 18 months had raised more than £150,000. They did so by a variety of fundraising methods that we will all be familiar with. Emily died in 2013. They finally opened the Serenity suite at the Queen’s Medical Centre, with real joy and pleasure, in April this year. Such has been their dedication to Forever Stars, the charity that they founded, that even though they said that the fundraising would end, as they have been contacted by parents from other parts of the east Midlands—notably, from Derby, where there is no bereavement suite—they have decided to resurrect Forever Stars. They are embarking once more on a huge fundraising exercise to open a bereavement suite. I urge them to continue—I know they will. It is right that parents are involved. However, it is equally right that all those hospital trusts that do not have bereavement suites should now get on with getting them. They should not rely on a parent who has suffered such terrible loss to spark them into taking action to make sure that those suites exist and are fully equipped and their staff are fully trained.

I offer my absolute congratulations to all those who have spoken, and in particular to those who have laid bare the worst moments of their lives. They have put those experiences forward so that we can say to the Government—and I know that the Minister will be listening—that this is an area in which it is time for action, for all the reasons and in all the ways that have been described, as it is not just about bereavement suites. We must take that action so that we can be proud, as a nation, that we are reducing the number of babies who are born dead or who die in the first months of their infancy, and we are doing the right thing by their parents and families, for the sake of the future that they looked forward to but has been denied to them and their children.