Colchester MP’s heartbreaking story told in the House Commons will shape policy, health minister says

Will Quince speaking in the House of Commons.

Will Quince speaking in the House of Commons. - Credit: Archant

An MP’s moving speech about the care given to him and other parents who lose children at birth will help to shape policy, a health minister has said.

Ben Gummer, who was responding to an emotional House of Commons debate led by Colchester MP Will Quince who described his own heartbreak after his son was stillborn, said concerns about proper care and support for all bereaved new parents would be raised in the months ahead.

Mr Quince described the fantastic support and facilities at Colchester General Hospital after his son was diagnosed with Edward’s Syndrome – a rare chromosomal disorder, but warned that care was “patchy” in the NHS as a whole.

The Conservative told MPs that even though he had been aware his son might be stillborn, nothing had prepared him for the shock and the numbness that came from seeing his wife give birth to a lifeless baby.

“The following precious hours we spent in beautiful silence helped me,” he said.

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Mr Gummer, the MP for Ipswich who responded as a health minister, said the issue had been raised at the right time and he hoped to be able to incorporate the “larger part” of what Mr Quince and other MPs had said into policy “pretty quickly”,

“It is clear from all their comments that there is much to do in this important area. I give an initial commitment that I will try to address all those things in the months ahead,” said Mr Gummer.

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He said that the thanks of the Department for Health should be passed to the staff at Colchester general hospital, who Mr Quince praised for the exemplary care during the debate.

Mr Gummer said that the report by the British Medical Journal cited by Mr Quince was a “harrowing read”.

“All the stories in it are, by turns, profoundly depressing, shocking and, to someone who is a new father, viscerally arresting, and also uplifting and very beautiful. It contains some very sensible advice about the need for time, for a culture of care, and for careful consideration of parents’ wishes, some distance after the death of a baby, to help us understand how better to look after those who are just entering that most awful place.”

Mr Gummer said he had already asked officials at the Department for Health to look at the number of bereavement suites around the country.

“The numbers have increased somewhat since the 2010 survey, so we are now at well over half, but that is nowhere near enough. I will now, as a consequence of his raising this issue, ensure that we get a proper assessment of the number of bereavement suites. Already, all new-build maternity units will have a bereavement suite in the right place. In fact, I intend to toughen up the guidelines so that they are not so much a suggestion, specifically about proximity to the rest of the maternity unit, but something rather more forceful than that. I hope that in finding out how great is the extent of the lack of provision in other hospitals, we can do something to address this in the months ahead.”

He added: “The national health service does not mean anything unless we care for those for whom health is not the end point. It is the selflessness of care which should lie at the heart of our national health service because that is the foundation on which we build medical help. That is no more so than in this case where, at the point of greatest expectation of hope and joy, people experience the deepest sense of tragedy.”

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