Lawyers have today welcomed the handing down of a Senate Committee report into stillbirth research education, including key recommendations to prioritise the development of national comprehensive perinatal deaths data collection.
Maurice Blackburn national head of Medical Negligence Dimitra Dubrow, who provided evidence to as part of the Senate inquiry, said the Committee had made a series of important recommendations to assist with increased data collection and research to better understand the causes of stillbirths and prevention.
"This was an important inquiry, and we are pleased that the Committee has recognised the need for national and comprehensive data capture of stillbirths that we hope will lead to better understanding and insights around the causes of stillbirths for medical professionals and families," Ms Dubrow said.
"We also welcome the Committee's recommendation to develop appropriate protocols for public hospitals and community health services to guide them in managing stillbirth investigations and to improve communication with parents – many of our clients have had very poor experiences with how hospitals and health facilities communicate with them about the loss of a baby that causes further distress to families at an incredibly difficult time.
"We would however like to see such reforms go further, including the implementation of patient escalation processes to allow families to seek further examination if they feel an initial consultation or assessment has been inadequate.
"Such a process exists currently in Queensland – Ryan's Rule – and other states and hospitals have similar escalation processes but we would urge all states to implement a nationally consistent process to ensure all families' concerns are heard and responded to.
"Disappointingly the Committee have also not made any recommendations for law reform to ensure that healthcare-related stillbirths can be investigated by a Coroner in appropriate circumstances.
"In our view this is a critical reform – each year our firm is involved in a number of inquests, all of which deliver invaluable insights and reforms for the improvement of patient care to prevent future deaths and we believe such oversight must also be extended to healthcare-related stillbirths.
"It is now incumbent on all states to act on these reforms as a matter of urgency, Queensland had made some progress towards possible reform in this area but that has stalled, and we again call on Queensland to reconsider law reform in this area.
"Similar reforms are being looked at closely in the United Kingdom and in our view Australia must follow suit – inquests provide critical independent insights into preventable deaths as well as often providing closure for families and such investigations must be extended to stillbirths in appropriate circumstances," she said.