Baby Loss Certificates in England explained - and why their introduction matters | Bolt Burdon Kemp Baby Loss Certificates in England explained - and why their introduction matters | Bolt Burdon Kemp

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Baby Loss Certificates in England explained – and why their introduction matters

This year, for the first time ever, pregnancy losses which happen before 24 weeks’ gestation will receive formal recognition in England in a welcome step to help parents.

As of 22 February 2024, parents who have suffered a pregnancy loss can apply for a ‘Certificate of Pregnancy Loss’. This follows the Pregnancy Loss Review commissioned by the Government in 2018 and is part of the wider Government strategy on women’s health.

Charities and support organisations have welcomed this progress following years’-long campaigns. Ruth Bender Atik, national director of the Miscarriage Association, celebrated the news, noting that it will finally provide formal recognition to the “tiniest of lives”.

Up until this point, parents could only register a pregnancy loss if it happened after 24 weeks’ gestation, which is officially referred to as a stillbirth. Pregnancy losses which occur in the first 23 weeks are regrettably common and there are sadly several reasons including miscarriages, ectopic pregnancies, molar pregnancies and neonatal loss.

Why it matters

Despite the volume of parents who experience pregnancy loss, it is often an isolating and confusing period where they are left feeling angry and shocked at their heartbreak. The new certificates will acknowledge the life that was lost which up until now was, in many ways, an invisible loss.

It provides proof of existence of the baby’s life and can provide an avenue for parents to direct their grief.

Tragically it is estimated 250,000 pregnancies are lost each year. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage, and a further 4,000 stillbirths occur across the UK annually. Unfortunately, these devastating figures are only an estimate as until now, there has not been an official register.

The new certificates will provide a clearer picture of early pregnancy loss and will hopefully lead to increased maternity, neonatal support and bereavement care.

How to apply

Certificates are entirely voluntary and bereaved parents have complete discretion as to whether they would like one. There is currently no deadline for applications to be submitted.

Applications are free of charge and can be made online www.gov.uk/request-baby-loss-certificate. To make an application, you must be the baby’s parent or surrogate. The application can be made by an individual parent or both parents. Where an individual parent applies, they can include the name and contact details of the second parent who will be contacted for their consent to be named on the certificate.

Each certificate will recognise an individual baby and applicants can include their baby’s name on the certificate, should one have been chosen.

If you have suffered a pregnancy loss from 24 weeks onwards, you must register a stillbirth instead. This can be done at your local register office within 42 days of the stillbirth.

Limitations

Currently, certificates will only be issued for pregnancy losses which occurred in England on or after 1 September 2018. It is hoped that this time frame will be extended retrospectively to allow for further historic pregnancy losses to be recognised. Applicants must be at least 16 years old and must be living in England now as well as at the time of the loss.

As the certificate is not a legal document, it will not carry any additional entitlements. The position regarding time off work has not changed and should affected parents require additional time off they must seek compassionate leave from their employer. This is a major omission and consideration must be given to a new leave policy going forward.

Our take

At Bolt Burdon Kemp we celebrate this development but understand that it is merely a stepping stone in the right direction. Women’s health continues to be an afterthought among practitioners and policy makers, and we will continue to push for more to be done in this area. We appreciate how devastating pregnancy loss is and recognise that increased efforts should be made to prevent pregnancy loss.

If you or your loved one consider you have experienced baby loss because of a medical error, please contact our specialist solicitors in the Complex Injury Team who can discuss options available to you and the strength of a medical negligence claim.

If you would like to access support following baby loss, you can do so by visiting Tommy’s or Sands.

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