Bereaved parents experience delays in receiving post-mortem results

04 December 2023

A shortage of perinatal pathologists means that some parents are experiencing long delays in receiving the results of post-mortems on their babies.

Losing a baby is a devastating and traumatic event. Often, parents find themselves wondering why this has happened and if there is a possibility that this could happen to them again in the future. In such circumstances, parents may be able to opt for a post-mortem investigation.

A post-mortem can not only provide some closure to parents, but it can also provide a better understanding of the factors that have led to a still birth, or an early neonatal death. 
Unfortunately, a recent survey of bereaved parents undertaken by the charity Sands (Sands | Saving babies' lives. Supporting bereaved families), has found that some parents are waiting up to six months to receive the post-mortem results. This waiting time has doubled within the last three years.

According to the Royal College of Pathologists, only 55 out of the 80 full-time equivalent paediatric and pathology posts in the UK are filled.  This leaves 25 vacancies throughout the UK. The posts that are filled are concentrated to London and the north west of England, leaving some areas in Wales and Northern Ireland with no one in those posts at all. A decline in the teaching of pathology in medical schools has also been raised as a contributing factor to the lack of perspective professionals to fill these roles.

Other issues that have been highlighted as contributors to the delay are tissue samples being lost, meaning that they are then too old to be examined, or babies being sent for post-mortem without consent.

Danielle Pritchett, an Associate Solicitor in Shoosmiths’ Serious Injury Team, Reading, states: ‘In clinical negligence cases, post-mortem results are so important when it comes to considering whether the passing of a baby or a still born birth was as a result of poor care or a mistake made by a trust. A delayed post-mortem can also extend the time parents have to wait for an inquest, as coroners also need to consider these important results before providing a conclusion as to cause of death.  This delay has a knock-on effect on all involved, and I hope that something can be done to remedy the situation going forward.’

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, please reach out to a member of our clinical negligence team who will discuss your circumstances and advise you on the best course of action.



This information is for educational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is recommended that specific professional advice is sought before acting on any of the information given. © Shoosmiths LLP 2024

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