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Parents who suffer miscarriage before 24 weeks can apply for baby loss certificate

Maria Caulfield, centre, said having a name on a certificate can help friends and family to remember the baby
Maria Caulfield, centre, said having a name on a certificate can help friends and family to remember the baby - Lucy North/PA

Parents who suffer a miscarriage or stillbirth before 24 weeks will be able to apply for Government baby loss certificates.

The voluntary scheme, launching on Wednesday, aims to formally recognise the devastating impact of loss during pregnancy.

Babies stillborn before 24 weeks cannot be officially registered, which grieving families have said have left them feeling their loss was not acknowledged.

The new certificates, which are not compulsory, will be official but not legal documents.

The certificates will be available for either parent to access following a loss under 24 weeks from September 2018, with the Government planning to expand eligibility in the near future.

Maria Caulfield, minister for the women’s health strategy, said parents who lose a baby before 24 weeks can feel there is a “lack of recognition of that baby”.

On a visit to a family bereavement centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting, south London, she said: “Getting an official certificate means a lot.

“Parents feel it’s so important to see their baby’s name on a certificate that they can share with family, and friends and remember that baby.

“We’ve had parents user-testing the system which is why it’s taken a little bit longer to get up and running than we would have liked.

“It’s a very difficult time for parents, even if they don’t do it straight away… so we want to make it as easy as possible.”

The measure is part of the Government’s response to an independent review of pregnancy loss and was promised in the Women’s Health Strategy.

Women’s Health Strategy has outlined several changes with a view to improving services for pregnancy loss
Women’s Health Strategy has outlined several changes with a view to improving services for pregnancy loss - iStockphoto

The minister was shown around the unit’s specialist bereavement suite, which offers a private setting for families dealing with the emotional and physical challenges of perinatal loss.

The suite at St George’s was refurbished in October after the family of a baby who passed away after birth raised more than £80,000 towards its renovation.

Not all hospitals have such facilities, and Ms Caulfield was told by midwives on the visit that they should be “standard” in maternity units.

The minister said: “Having a facility like this where mums are not on a maternity ward, where they have the time and space to spend with their baby before they have to leave hospital is crucial. Part of our pregnancy loss review is seeing how we can get that as a standard facility in all maternity units.

Asked about calls to introduce statutory leave for bereaved parents who have lost a baby before 24 weeks, she said: “We are looking at that. As a department, we’re leading the way in supporting employees at the Department of Health and Social Care.

“There’s nothing formal at the moment, but a bit like we’ve done with the menopause, in encouraging employers to look after their staff, both mums and dads. It’s really important.

“Many employers want to support those parents that work for them, but aren’t always sure how to, so it’s about raising awareness and showcasing best practice that will really help parents at difficult times.”

Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, said: “Losing a baby can be a hugely traumatic event and the introduction of certificates to formally acknowledge the loss of life is a positive step towards better supporting women and parents affected.

“I’d like to thank charities and campaigners for their continuous work in bringing awareness to baby loss and making the certificates launching possible.”

Kath Abrahams, chief executive of Tommy’s, the pregnancy research and baby loss charity, said: “This announcement will be warmly welcomed by many in our community.

“The pain of losing a baby before 24 weeks is often made even worse for bereaved parents because there is no formal recognition of their experience.

“We’re pleased that baby loss certificates will now be available to provide a degree of comfort.”

The new scheme is being launched today in England only, although people in Scotland can already apply to have their loss recorded in the Memorial Book of Pregnancy and Baby Loss Prior to 24 weeks, and receive a certificate of inclusion in the book.