The team at Catherine Henry Lawyers supports Red Nose Day on August 14, 2020. Here’s why, and how you can help reduce Australia’s still too high child-death rate.
What is Red Nose Day?
According to Red Nose, in Australia, nine children still die suddenly and unexpectedly every day. That’s more than 3,000 babies, toddlers and pre-schoolers every year – more than double the number of deaths on our roads. These children are dying from stillbirth, SIDS, and fatal sleeping accidents.
Why are we supporting Red Nose Day?
Our health law team helps mothers and fathers, who experience the tragedy of losing their child either through stillbirth or neonatal death to seek compensation and answers to their questions about their trauma and loss.
We have bought a Red Nose Day supporters’ pack and will be fundraising for Red Nose. Staff will wear a red nose and we will hold a morning tea to kick start our fundraising.
The issues of stillbirth and neonatal death
Stillbirth occurs when a baby, greater than 20 weeks gestation, is delivered with no signs of life. Neonatal death is said to occur if a baby dies within the first 28 days of life.
Around 800 mothers a year in NSW lose their child either through stillbirth or death in the neonatal period. There are six stillbirths in Australia every day or 2000 every year. This figure is more than a third worse than the best-performing countries. The number of neonatal deaths is more than 800 per year or two to three per day. Despite significant medical and technological advancements over the last 20 years, the numbers of deaths are not reducing.
Variations in perinatal deaths in different areas of NSW
There are variations in perinatal deaths (stillborn or neonatal deaths) by areas of NSW.
An ABC investigation in July 2020 showed that the rate of stillbirths is consistently worse in regional Australia than in major cities. In the most populated areas of regional Australia, babies are less likely to be born alive now than in the year 2000.
But the 2018 NSW Mothers and Babies Report (table below) show that the perinatal mortality rate in NSW in 2018 was 8.1 per 1,000 births. The rate was below this average in the Central Coast, mid North Coast, Western and Northern NSW local health districts. It was above that average in Hunter New England and Far West local health districts.
Many stillbirths and neonatal deaths are avoidable
Our health lawyers have handled many cases involving neonatal death and stillbirth which have shown the trauma or death to have been avoidable and a result of negligence.
The law can play a vital role in helping parents get answers when they lose a child. It is also a useful tool to prevent these tragic events from occurring again. Holding people responsible accountable for any negligence helps ensure procedures to change.
The value of the law is heightened because unfortunately there is no systematic approach to investigating or auditing these deaths for preventable factors at a national level. In most states, the data is either not produced or is unavailable, making it impossible to know how many deaths are linked to hospital safety or error. Former members of the NSW maternal and perinatal mortality committee told the ABC the state does not systematically audit stillbirths and neonatal deaths at the state level.
Does COVID-19 cause stillbirth?
This is an interesting and important question. An article by Anna Wald, MD, MPH, Associate Editor, NEJM Journal Watch Women’s Health reviews a study on this issue by Khalil A et al. JAMA July 2020.
The jury is still out with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on pregnancy outcomes continue to be examined. There has been an increase in stillbirths during the pandemic in a large London hospital, but none occurred among women with documented COVID-19.
Investigators assessed rates of stillbirth among 1681 births during the four months prior to February 1, 2020, (prepandemic) compared with 1718 births between February 1 and June 14, 2020, (pandemic). Demographic characteristics of the women in both groups were similar.
Stillbirth rates were 1.2% (prepandemic) versus 7% (pandemic). Routine testing for COVID-19 was not conducted during the pandemic period, and all women with stillbirths were asymptomatic. Postmortem and placental pathology were not consistent with viral infection, indicating that none of the stillbirths occurred in women with COVID-19.
Recent unexpected newborn deaths at Blacktown Hospital
Sometimes the law or the threat of legal action helps to prompt reviews – as does the media.
Questions raised by the Sydney Morning Herald this month appear to have escalated inquiries into the unexpected deaths of four newborns at Blacktown Hospital over the past 18 months.
In the SMH article, Vijay Roach, president of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said unexpected newborn deaths were uncommon in NSW hospitals. He said the causes are often multi-factorial but this doesn’t preclude identifying, and acknowledging, individual errors and systemic failures.
“The community has a right to accountability from health professionals and the medical system. When adverse events occur, there must be open disclosure, forensic investigation and a willingness to change processes to improve patient care,” Mr Roach said.
“It is essential that any adverse outcome is fully investigated and that, during the process, patients, their families and the hospital staff are fully supported.”
Action to reduce stillbirth
The Australian government has developed the National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan as well as initiatives such as the national Safer Baby Bundle to cut the rate of still-births in late pregnancy by 20% through. The public consultation on this plan closed at the end of July 2020.
The Safer Baby Bundle, modelled on European programs, is a suite of eLearning modules, workshops and a campaign for pregnant women targeting five key areas. It provides information to both pregnant women and to clinicians.
The NSW Safer Baby Program was launched at a Clinical Excellence Commission workshop at Westmead Hospital in February 2020. Western Sydney, South Western Sydney, Hunter New England and Central Coast local health districts have joined as national research partners to reduce stillbirth as they are geographically diverse and have some of the busiest maternity departments in NSW.
The Centre of Research Excellence in Stillbirth within the University of Queensland has been established. Red Nose also funds research into preventing childhood death. That’s one of the reasons why we’re fundraising – to support this important research.
Who is behind Red Nose Day?
Red Nose (formerly called Sids and Kids) is an authority on safe sleep and pregnancy, and bereavement support for families affected by the death of a child. Founded in 1977 by bereaved parents, they created one of Australia’s most successful public health programs – “Back to Sleep” – which has so far reduced SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by 85 per cent. The first Red Nose Day, held in 1988, urged Australians to wear a red nose and be “silly for a serious cause”.
For information support and resources visit www.rednose.org.au
If you would like to support our fundraising efforts for Red Nose please click here.
We can fight for you or your loved one
If you or a loved one has experienced injuries as a result of a pregnancy complication, neonatal death or birth trauma, please get in touch with one of our caring, expert, health lawyers about the options available to you.
Read our information sheet on Stillbirth and Neonatal death or our article – Assisting clients who suffer the anguish of stillbirth or neonatal death.