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‘I can’t grieve for my daughter Ella. I’m still fighting a battle for her’

ANGELA OWENS was overdue when she began feeling pain four days before Christmas in 2013.

It was nothing like the contractions she had felt with her first child so she phoned the hospital and was told to come straight in. When Owens arrived she expected to be treated as an emergency but instead was told by her midwife to return home.

Sensing that something was wrong, she refused. Owens was moved to a birthing pool to await labour but when the pain worsened she was asked to get out. Tests could find no foetal heartbeat.

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Staff then used an ultrasound machine, which had to be reset twice before it worked, to try to detect a heartbeat. Baby Ella was eventually delivered but was recorded as stillborn.

Owens, 30, a benefits assessor from Warrington, Cheshire, said: “It seemed like there was no urgency until the last minute.

“I thought I would go in and have a caesarean section or that they would put me on a monitor and keep examining me and checking me.

“I had to plead to stay on the ward. They wanted me to go home.

“I was angry because no one had listened to me. It was as if I was an inconvenience and that they didn’t want me on the labour ward.”

Lawyers are investigating whether more could, and should, have been done at Warrington Hospital to detect the problems and whether an earlier decision to deliver by caesarean might have prevented Ella’s death.

Ayse Ince, of Irwin Mitchell, Owens’s lawyer, said: “The family have serious concerns about the treatment they received in the 24 hours prior to the stillbirth.” Owens says her struggle to get answers is exacerbating her suffering. “I can’t grieve for my daughter because I am still fighting a battle for her.”

Warrington and Halton Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “We want to express our sincere condolences to Angela and her family for their loss. There has been both an internal and independent investigation into this case and the findings have been shared with Angela.”

The stillbirth and neonatal death charity, Sands, says most stillbirths at term, when the baby is fully formed, could be prevented with closer monitoring and medical intervention.

Janet Scott, of Sands, said: “We know that 60% of term stillbirths in the UK could potentially be prevented simply by applying the minimum standards of antenatal care and guidance for mothers and babies.”

Bereaved families across Britain have no doubt that Sands is correct.

Hamish Dobson was stillborn at 40 weeks and four days in April 2014 after failings in the antenatal care of his mother, Sarah Dobson, 32, a nursery nurse from Surrey. Midwives gave Sarah out of date advice about the foetal movements she should look out for and then failed to recognise reduced growth from 32 weeks because staff had not properly plotted information about measurements on a graph.

A final opportunity which the Dobsons believe may have saved Hamish was missed when a junior doctor who had been instructed to arrange for Sarah to be monitored for raised blood pressure inexplicably sent her home.

Max Dobson, 32, a financial controller, said the errors that had “shaken up their entire world” are, sadly, “fairly typical”.

“We went into the hospital and the junior doctor did the assessment. Sarah’s blood pressure was high. The doctor went off to see the consultant and came back and said, ‘Well, the blood pressure is a bit high, we will arrange induction for some point next week’, booked us in for about a week’s time and sent us away,” he said.

“Two days later, Hamish was dead. It was only later that we found out that the junior doctor had been told specifically to send Sarah for monitoring.”

Almost two years on, the Dobsons are still seeking answers to what went wrong.The Royal Surrey County Hospital said: “The trust fully supported both an internal and independent review into the care that Mrs Dobson received. Once again, we would like to offer our sincere condolences to the family.”

Safer births
More than 3,500 babies are stillborn in Britain each year, more per head than in Poland, Croatia and Estonia. Behind those statistics lies the agony of parents, compounded by the knowledge that more might have been done to save their children.

The Sunday Times Safer Births Campaign is demanding action to:

  • Reduce stillbirths of “term” babies by 60% by applying basic care guidelines
  • Ensure that a consultant obstetrician is present in all large maternity hospitals 24/7
  • Measure babies’ growth according to guidelines and act on poor growth
  • Listen to mothers who report concerns
  • Monitor baby’s heartbeat and correctly interpret readings
  • Give mothers the right to a caesarean section