Mum’s agony over baby’s mass grave burial

Stoke Mandeville Hospital
Stoke Mandeville Hospital

A mother who was told she could not make funeral arrangements for her miscarried son has hit out at hospital bosses.

Lisa Munroe-Shields, 48, lost her son Alfie at 18-and-a-half weeks pregnant in March 2012.

She and her husband Brian were then told by hospital staff they would have no say in what happened to his body because he had been born below a 20-week threshold.

Alfie was taken away by nurses at Stoke Mandeville Hospital in Buckinghamshire and the couple were left to grieve, believing he would be cremated with other babies who had died in the womb.

But three years on Mrs Munroe-Shields, who lives in Highfield, Hemel Hempstead, has discovered Alfie was in fact buried in an unmarked mass grave in the Tring Road Cemetery in Aylesbury, a few miles from the hospital where he died.

Mrs Munroe-Shields, who works in the care system, said: “It was absolutely horrendous. When the lady told me over the phone, I just cried.

“We’ve had no grave to go to or to lay flowers at, and that is something that would have really helped us.

“We had a plaque made up for the Forget-Me-Not Garden in Gadebridge Park, but all this time he’s been in Aylesbury.”

The couple, who have five adult children between them, have lodged an official complaint with the Buckinghamshire Healthcare NHS Trust – which oversees the hospital – in a bid to get to the bottom of why they were not given the choice to hold their own service for Alfie at the time.

Mrs Munroe-Shields, who had to go through an emergency hysterectomy after Alfie’s birth due to an infection, said: “It should have been discussed with us. We were not given the choice – we were told that, because of his age, it was all down to the hospital.

“Part of me wishes I had never made that call.

“I’m angry at myself. I wish we had done something at the time, but everything was a blur.

“I’m just concerned that other people have been told the wrong information too.”

Since the discovery, the couple have attended a private service given by the Trust’s chaplain, but they say they are ‘angry’ about the mistakes that have been made.

They have since met with hospital officials to address what they believe was a breakdown in communication, but say they have been given ‘no concrete answers’.

Audrey Warren, head of midwifery at the Trust, said: “The loss of a child is a profoundly sad time for all concerned, and we offer our condolences to Mrs Munroe-Shields and her family at what has clearly been a very difficult time for them in the three years since losing their baby boy. We recently met with Mrs Munroe-Shields and her husband to discuss the concerns they raised with us earlier this year and to share the results of the review we have since undertaken.

“We believe that the correct care pathway was followed at the time of Mrs Munroe-Shields’ miscarriage in 2012 and that their baby was buried in accordance with our guidelines.

“We are continuing to offer support to Mrs Munroe-Shields through the Trust’s chaplain and bereavement service.”

Ruth Bender Atik, National Director of the Miscarriage Association, says that if a pregnancy ends before 24 weeks there is no legal requirement for cremation or burial, but there is clear guidance on the options that should be offered to parents regarding their baby’s remains.

Ms Bender Atik said: “All hospitals that are likely to treat women who miscarry should have a policy and procedure for the disposal of pregnancy remains.

“This will include informing the mother (and her partner where appropriate) about the options available to them. “These are likely to be individual or shared cremation, individual or shared cremation and in some cases, disposal along with other blood and tissue (i.e. clinical waste), as well as the option of making their own arrangements. “All the information should also be provided in writing, preferably in a sensitively written patient information leaflet.

“There is no doubt that this is a very difficult and sensitive subject and may feel like more than parents can bear at the time of their loss.

“Some might not want to think about it at all.

“In all cases, parents should be given time to make that decision and told too what the hospital’s normal procedure is if they choose not to make a decision.

“It is extremely sad that this information was apparently not given to Lisa and Brian.

“They were left with unanswered questions, not knowing what had happened to their son.

“Perhaps most important, they were unable to mark his brief life in the way they might have chosen had they been given those options.”