Government seeks advice on covering cost of stillbirth autopsies in bid to prevent further deaths – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)

Government seeks advice on covering cost of stillbirth autopsies in bid to prevent further deaths

By political reporter Stephanie Dalzell

Updated July 04, 2019 15:13:09

The Federal Government will seek advice on covering the cost of stillbirth autopsies, in a move to assist grief-stricken families and gain better insight into preventing further deaths.

Key points:

  • The Health Minister has said the Government sought advice on the possibility of adding autopsies as a Medicare item and will cover the costs if the advisory committee approves it
  • The Government has also announced it will develop a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan
  • The plan aims to reduce the rate of stillbirths by 20 per cent over the next three years

The Government has made the decision as part of its response to a parliamentary inquiry examining why Australia’s stillbirth rate has not dropped in two decades.

Labor has been agitating for the Government to respond to the inquiry’s report, which was tabled in December and made several recommendations aimed at reducing the rate of stillbirths.

One of them was for the Government to seek advice on the costs and benefits of adding stillbirth autopsies as a new Medicare item.

Currently, any blood tests performed on stillborn babies do not qualify for Medicare rebates.

The inquiry heard Government funding of $4,000 per autopsy would provide an answer for up to 50 per cent of cases involving stillbirth or congenital abnormalities leading to death.

The Health Minister Greg Hunt said the Government had sought advice from the Medicare Services Advisory Committee (MSAC), and would cover the costs of autopsies if the MSAC gave the plan the green-light.

“It’s immensely important for families who are affected but also in planning and understanding what we can as a nation do better to prevent further tragedies — this is an invaluable data source,” he said.

The Government has also revealed it will develop a National Stillbirth Action and Implementation Plan, in collaboration with state and territory Governments.

Mr Hunt said the plan would aim to reduce the rate of stillbirths in Australian by 20 per cent over the next three years, in line with the report’s recommendation.

“That’s not just our goal, I want to try to beat that outcome.

“Of course, the very nature of pregnancy is there will be some loss but we have to drive to reduce that — it’s the avoidable stillbirths that we must seek to address.”

Mr Hunt said the Government had agreed to all 16 recommendations from the parliamentary inquiry report, making an “in principle” commitment to those that require state, territory or committee participation.

He has also announced the Government will invest more than $50 million in response to the report, to invest in further research, improved data collection, and to support grieving parents better.

“This is a deep human response to something that can stay with families forever — the emotional distress, the trauma, the loss of young life and potential, the truth is, I think and we think, we can achieve better outcomes.”

‘I’m hopeful we can help save hundreds a year’

Stillbirth affects more than 2,000 families each year.

One in every 137 women who reaches 20 weeks of pregnancy will experience stillbirth.

For women from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, the rate is double that.

The report found the rate of stillbirth in Australia has not changed over the past two decades, despite modern advances in medical practice and health care.

When it was tabled in December, members of the Senate committee spoke of how stillbirth had affected their families.

Labor Senator Kristina Keneally was moved to tears as she read out the names of every lost child whose parents shared their story with the inquiry.

She ended with the name of her own child, Caroline, who was stillborn in 1999.

Liberal Senator Jim Molan also shared his story, telling Parliament his daughter Sarah delivered a stillborn baby in 2007.

Mr Hunt paid tribute to the committee members for their work.

“The report was valuable and it’s allowed us to respond with productive actions, investment in research, investment in education, and the ability to implement the report with a national roundtable.

“If we can make a difference to one life — that would have been enough.

“But I am hopeful we can help save hundreds of lives a year, and thousands of lives over the course of a decade.”

In a statement, Labor said it supported the commitment and would aid research and prevention programs to reduce Australia’s stillbirth rate.

The Opposition said it hoped both parties would continue to work together to prevent stillbirth, and save lives.

Topics: pregnancy-and-childbirth, health, family, human-interest, government-and-politics, australia

First posted July 04, 2019 00:06:54

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