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Senate Seeking Action on Stillbirths in Australia

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Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has wasted no time since joining the Senate earlier this year, in driving the establishment of a Senate Inquiry into Stillbirth Research and Education.

Six babies a day in Australia are stillborn. One in 135 births in Australia will be a stillbirth.

Senator Keneally told the Senate that rate of stillbirths in Australia have not shifted for two decades, a tragedy that is also personal. Senator Keneally’s daughter, Caroline was stillborn in 1998.

“Stillbirth is an often overlooked, under-investigated and ignored public health issue,” she said when recommending the Inquiry to the Senate.

“It has significant economic impact. Surely we, as a country, can do better than this. There are things that we know that we’re not telling parents that could help them prevent stillbirth, and there are things we could know better with better data collection and more coordinated and better funded research.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RANZCOG) welcomed the Senate Inquiry, adding: “A large proportion of stillbirths are unexplained and the causes need to be further explored.”

RANZCOG also said in its submission, it believed the areas in which there are substantial opportunities for improvement in outcome are with the detection and management of fetal growth restriction (FGR) and avoidance of intrapartum hypoxic death – together contributing about 8 per cent of all stillbirths.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) told the Senate Inquiry it believed: “Stillbirth is a tragic complication of pregnancy which often remains poorly understood within the health profession and the wider community. This impacts awareness and education as well as training and research.”

RACP encouraged the Committee to explore a range of options for reducing stillbirth rates in Australia, and improving care where stillbirths occur, including undertaking an Audit of current data and collection methodologies, and mandate annual reporting to a single agency with responsibility for stillbirth oversight. It also believes it is important for States and Territories to mandate the use of the Perinatal Society of Australia and New Zealand (PSANZ) guidelines and fund Medical Practitioner Education around them at least twice per year.

RACP also said organisations providing support groups following pregnancy loss should have their programs evaluated and, where proven effective, fully funded, to make them universally available. Also in the RACP submission was a view that current stillbirth research funding should be reviewed, and funds allocated to research that addressed specific stillbirth priority areas.

Sands, an Australian miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death charity, used the Inquiry to advocate for improved training in bereavement care for all health professionals.

The Stillbirth Foundation’s primary recommendation was a National Action Plan for Stillbirth be developed and implemented, in a process which involves key stakeholders such as medical practitioners, midwives and nurses, health bureaucrats, families who have experienced stillbirth and representative groups.

The Stillbirth Foundation’s chief executive Victoria Bowring said a strategic and well-considered policy approach from Federal Government was “long overdue”.

She added that an action plan would be a coherent policy roadmap to set out priorities, establish measured targets and the necessary funding behind it.

“Too often we see inconsistent medical care, a lack of awareness in the community, not enough coordination and investment in research and poor data collection and management,” she said.

“We have seen a similar approach recently with the national action plan for endometriosis being developed by the Federal Government, and a similar model could work for stillbirth.”

The Committee is due to report back with its recommendations when the Parliament resumes in early 2019.

Details of the Senate Inquiry into Stillbirth Research and Education, including submissions can be found at: www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate/Stillbirth_Research_and_Education/Stillbirth