Jeremy Hunt MP – The effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people experiencing baby loss
Jeremy Hunt MP (South West Surrey) spoke during a debate at Westminster Hall about the effect of the covid-19 outbreak on people experiencing baby loss.
Following some moving contributions to the debate, including a very emotional and personal one from Cherilyn Mackrory MP, the South West Surrey MP began his address by saying “Nothing I say will come close to the extraordinary emotions that we have heard. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), with whom it is a great honour to co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss.
This is the video of the contribution from Jeremy Hunt MP.
Full text of Jeremy Hunt MP Contribution:
It is an honour to follow two such remarkable speeches. Nothing I say will come close to the extraordinary emotions that we have heard. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Truro and Falmouth (Cherilyn Mackrory), with whom it is a great honour to co-chair the all-party parliamentary group on baby loss. When my hon. Friend talked about seeing Lily’s name in the registry of Truro cathedral, I think what we all thought was that is just the first of many important moments that Lily will be remembered—this is another of those moments. What is so striking about the courage shown by my hon. Friend, and by so many families, is that she chose to relive the agony that she went through over and over again, because she wants to stop other families going through that same pain. That represents extraordinary courage, and I think it is an incredibly good omen for her time in this place that she is prepared to do that.
It is also an honour to follow the hon. Member for Luton North (Sarah Owen), who has made an extraordinary contribution to the Health and Social Care Committee in the short time that we have been working together. She drew my attention to the issue of women having to cope with extreme emotional stress on their own during the maternity process. I thank her for that, along with all the other work she has done on the Committee on maternity issues. On Tuesday we heard from James Titcombe, one of the best known baby loss campaigners in the country, who, the Minister told me, lost his son Joshua exactly 12 years ago today. James gave an inspirational testimony. It is because of those many families up and down the country that we are having this debate today. I also thank the Minister, who I know will give a compassionate and supportive response. She totally gets patient safety and these issues, and will be doing everything she can to resolve them.
We all understand the importance of infection prevention and control in a pandemic. The shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Tooting (Dr Allin-Khan), as a doctor herself, will understand that. The answer surely has to be an expansion of the testing facilities, which we know are in the process of being expanded. If we are able to test everyone in the city of Liverpool, it must be within our grasp to make it possible to test people who want to be with their partners in those crucial moments of a pregnancy.
I hope that today’s debate will shine a spotlight on the wider issues around baby loss. The uncomfortable truth for all of us is that in this country, according to the latest figures I have seen, we lose about 3.9 babies per 1,000 born in neonatal deaths—deaths within the first 28 days. In Sweden, the rate is about half that. That means that if we had Swedish safety levels in this country, about 1,000 more babies would live every year.
The Select Committee is doing a big inquiry into what lessons need to be learned. I will just talk about one particular lesson that has long been a concern of mine. We make it far too difficult for doctors, midwives and nurses to speak openly about any mistakes they may have made or may have seen, because still, in too many parts of the NHS, we have a blame culture. People are worried that they might lose their job, they might get disbarred or there might be negative consequences for others they work with. We heard on Tuesday that one reason why Sweden has managed to achieve a much lower neonatal death rate is that they have made it much easier for doctors, midwives and nurses to speak openly about things that may have gone wrong. They have managed to change a blame culture into a learning culture.
One thing I hope we will look at is whether it is appropriate under the law that the only way a family can get compensation in this country is if they can prove clinical negligence. That immediately creates antagonism between a family, who perhaps have a child born disabled and desperately need financial support for that child’s life, and the doctors, midwives and nurses responsible for that child’s birth, who also want to help the family with every fibre in their body, but worry that if they speak openly about what happened, they might end up with a successful claim of clinical negligence against them. I hope that is something we can address.
I want to finish by saying this. As we reflect on how to be more compassionate with people going through some of the extreme agonies that we have heard this afternoon, we should always remember that the best possible way to handle baby loss is to ensure that it never happens in the first place. Getting the culture right in our maternity units is the best way that we can save heartache for thousands of families. It is the best tribute to baby girls such as Lily and to baby boys such as Joshua Titcombe, and it is the best way that we can turn the wonderful intentions we are hearing in this debating Chamber into actions that will make a difference for the lives of many.