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Hunt unveils plans for coroners to investigate full-term stillbirths

He outlined how the Government wants to halve the rate of stillbirths, neonatal and maternal deaths by 2025.

Coroners could investigate full-term stillbirths for the first time under plans unveiled by the Health Secretary.

Jeremy Hunt said he would work with the Ministry of Justice to “look closely” at enabling inquests for such deaths, as he announced every case of stillbirth and brain injury would be investigated independently.

Mr Hunt said the measures meant the Government would bring forward the date by which they are trying to halve neonatal deaths, maternal deaths, injuries and stillbirths from 2030 to 2025.

Addressing the Commons, he told MPs: “Following concerns that some neonatal deaths are being wrongly classified as stillbirths, which means a coroner’s inquest cannot take place, I will work with the Ministry of Justice to look closely into enabling for the first time full-term stillbirths to be covered by coronial law, giving due consideration to the impact on the devolved administration in Wales.”

Currently, coroners can only investigate the deaths of babies who show signs of life after being born, and not the deaths of full-term babies who died before or during birth.

All proposals to change the law would be subject to public consultation, the Department of Health said.

Mr Hunt said the NHS was still not good enough at sharing best practice, adding: “From next year every case of a stillbirth, neonatal death, suspected brain injury or maternal death that is notified to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ Each Baby Counts programme – so that’s about 1,000 incidents annually – will be investigated, not by the trust at which the incident happened, but independently with a thorough, learning-focused investigation conducted by the Healthcare Safety Investigation Branch.”

The Department of Health said the NHS safety investigator, led by experts, will standardise investigations of cases of unexplained severe brain injury, intrapartum stillbirths, early neonatal deaths and maternal deaths in England, sharing findings to prevent future tragedies.

Mr Hunt said the Government would improve training of maternity staff, and provide new funding to train health practitioners to deliver evidence-based smoking cessation.

He said trusts who improve their maternity safety would be “saving the NHS money, allowing more funding to be made available for frontline care”.

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said: “This is a welcome set of announcements overall from the Secretary of State which can help the NHS provide the best quality of care for all mothers and their babies.

“We look forward on this side of the House to working constructively with the Secretary of State and the Government, but I hope he can reassure us today that the Government will provide the resources NHS midwives and their colleagues need to deliver on these ambitions.”

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