Breaking the Stillbirth Taboo: Every Little Helps

Following BBC Panorama’s documentary, “Born Asleep”, it is fantastic to see that stillbirth and neonatal death has been given so much well-deserved media attention, especially during October, International Baby Loss Awareness Month.

Professor Kypros Nicolaides told Panorama that more than half of all stillbirths (there are approximately 3,500 each year) could be prevented. He claims that offering a Doppler scan, which measure the blood flow from the placenta to the baby was the key to the reduction.

Many stillbirths are caused by the failure of the placenta, starving the baby of food and oxygen. Professor Kypros Nicolaides claims that as many as 90% of these cases can be identified from as early as the 12 week scan which would result in the adjustment of antenatal care. King’s College Hospital, London (where Professor Kypros Nicolaides is based) offers Doppler scans routinely at 12, 22 and 32 weeks.

Placental Failure often occurs at the end of pregnancy. It is therefore argued that with the help of the Doppler scan, babies lives can be saved as any abnormality in the placenta can be seen and the baby can be born by C-section before it is too late. Currently, Doppler scans are only used in high risk women which account for only 15-20% of all pregnancies.

Introduction of the Doppler would eradicate the over reliance by health professionals on the tape measure, an antiquated method of measuring a baby’s growth in pregnancy.

St George’s Hospital in London has also introduced the Doppler scan to all first-time mothers at 20 weeks, which costs ¬£15 per mother when given at the same time as a foetal anomaly scan. The hospital claims that since this introduction, it has seen its stillbirth rate drop by 50% in three years.

A clinical trial is needed and further research carried out before the NHS introduce the Doppler as part of routine antenatal care but the statistics look promising.

In the meantime, NHS England is encouraging hospital trusts to adopt the Growth Assisted Protocol (GAP), at a cost of 50p per pregnancy. It is claimed that this method cuts stillbirth rates by up to 22%. It was created by Professor Jason Gardosi, director of the Perinatal Institute in Birmingham and works by giving each mother a customised growth chart which is developed using factors such as her height, weight at beginning of pregnancy, ethnic origin and how many children she has had. The chart estimates the expected growth of the baby for each week in pregnancy and the theory behind it is that if a baby’s growth falls outside what is expected, the mother is then referred for extra scans which would highlight any baby in need of early delivery.

Almost two-thirds of Trusts have signed up. A definite step in the right direction.

We sincerely hope that Professor Kypros Nicolaides and his team are able to convince the NHS of the need to introduce routine Doppler scans as part of antenatal care.

If you or a family member or friend would like to discuss your potential stillbirth or neonatal death claim, please contact Amy Bennett on 0208 209 9712. Alternatively, you can e-mail abennett@gadllp.co.uk or fill out our online contact form.