Queen’s Hospital in Burton Upon Trent has apologised following the stillbirth of Nickie and Andy Swinburne’s son, Theo.

On 25 July 2016, Nickie did not feel her baby boy kicking at the time of day that he would usually be active. She had been due to be induced the following day, but had a feeling that something was wrong. She trusted her instinct and attended Queens Hospital Burton at around 8pm, so that she could be reassured by the midwives. 

By 9pm, a CTG monitor was applied to Nickie’s abdomen to check her baby's heartbeat and when a midwife returned to check the results from the monitor, they found an alarm stating: "Warning: pre-terminal". It appeared that Theo's heart rate was slowing. Despite this, staff dismissed this as a "technical error" rather than investigating whether Theo was in distress.

At 10.35pm, a registrar attended and was concerned that Theo was not receiving the oxygen he needed. Nickie was not yet in labour. At 10.50pm staff were concerned that the machine was faulty and decided to attach another machine to monitor Theo's heart rate. On applying the new machine Theo’s heart rate fell and was then lost. The registrar was called at 11.25pm and Theo's heart rate was detected but was low.

Nickie was taken for an emergency Caesarean section under general anaesthetic. Theo was delivered unresponsive and despite 40 minutes spent trying to resuscitate him he could not be revived.

Nickie said: "Whilst no-one could have prevented what caused Theo's distress, our son could have been delivered alive within a couple of hours of us arriving at the hospital, had the correct protocols been followed. This unforgiveable event has changed our lives forever."

An investigation report prepared by the hospital concluded that the root cause of Theo's death was "a period of terminal asphyxia". Queens Hospital Burton has accepted it that it did not meet the standards of care which the family were entitled to.

The Chief Executive of University Hospitals of Derby and Burton NHS Foundation Trust, Gavin Boyle, has sent an official apology to the family, "I am profoundly sorry for the mistakes made and the shortfalls in this case which occurred…very clearly, the trust did not meet the standards of care which you were fully entitled to expect and which we aim, at all times, to deliver. I hope it will be of some comfort to you to know that we are determined, as an organisation, to learn from the mistakes made in order to minimise the chance of it arising again”.

Nickie felt that something was wrong when Theo did not wriggle at a particular time of day. She noticed that the pattern of kicks was different for him and sought medical guidance. The charity Kicks Count, was set up in 2009 as "Count the Kicks" by Sophia Wyatt following the stillbirth of her daughter Chloe, who died just three days before her due date.

Many mothers who have endured a stillbirth have noticed a reduction in their baby’s kicks and movement as babies in distress tend to reduce their movements 12 – 48 hours before they pass away. Kicks Count encourage all pregnant women to report to their midwife or maternity unit any change in their baby’s pattern of movement straight away.

In many cases of stillbirth no cause can be found, and the death of these babies can remain unexplained, which can be particularly hard for the parents.

However, there are a number of possible causes including failure or complications with the placenta (which is linked to around half of stillbirths), pre-eclampsia, obstetric cholestasis, pre-existing diabetes, gestational diabetes, genetic defects, haemorrhage, issues with the umbilical cord, and premature birth.

For more information see the Tommy’s website: https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/pregnancy-complications/baby-loss/stillbirth/causes-stillbirth

The current figures from the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society show that each day in the UK 15 babies die due to stillbirth or neonatal death. According to charity Kicks Count, a third of stillbirths occur after 37 weeks when the baby is considered full term. Baby Loss Awareness Week (9-15 October) raises awareness of pregnancy loss and baby death in the UK. It also campaigns for improvements in research, bereavement support and healthcare.

Nickie and Andy Swinburne were supported by friends, family and support groups to help them through their tragic loss. One of the charities which supported them was SANDS, which is a stillbirth and neonatal death charity. They offer bereavement support by a helpline for parents, families and health professionals. It also offers a wide range of resources and an online forum to enable families to connect and support each other. For further information please see their website: https://www.sands.org.uk/support 

The Foundation for Infant Loss provides education in Infant Loss and Bereavement to a number of professionals, and their award winning courses have been accredited world wide. In April 2018 the Foundation for Infant Loss launched its Nationwide Baby loss helpline. Using their years of knowledge they are supporting families and signposting them to financial assistance, information relating to legal issues and to emotional support. Please see their website for further information about the support available:http://www.foundationforinfantloss.co.uk/

Freeths’ Clinical Negligence Solicitors have a national reputation for providing the highest quality legal advice following failures by medical professionals to provide appropriate care during pregnancy, labour, delivery and in the neonatal period. We have specialist expertise in clinical negligence cases surrounding stillbirth and baby loss.

In addition to our existing years of knowledge we are proud to confirm that we have three solicitors in our national clinical negligence team who have received the fantastic training the Foundation for Infant Loss offer, and are now their recommended solicitors for the Staffordshire, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire regions. 

If you, or someone you know, requires specialist advice please contact:

Claire Cooper, Solicitor (Derby/Stoke on Trent) on 0845 274 6830 or claire.cooper@freeths.co.uk (Foundation for Infant Loss recommended solicitor for Staffordshire)

Carolyn Lowe, Partner (Oxford/Milton Keynes) on 0186 578 1019 or carolyn.lowe@freeths.co.uk (Foundation for Infant Loss recommended Solicitor for Buckinghamshire)

Jane Williams, Partner (Leicester/Nottingham/Birmingham) on 0845 272 5724 or jane.williams@freeths.co.uk (Foundation for Infant Loss recommended Solicitor for Leicestershire)