What we investigate

A doctor comforts a woman lying in a hospital bed.

We investigate incidents that meet the criteria as previously defined within the Each Baby Counts programme or our defined criteria for maternal deaths.

The Each Baby Counts programme was the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists’ national quality improvement programme to reduce the number of babies who die or are left severely disabled as a result of incidents occurring during term labour. This programme is now closed and HSIB has retained their criteria for investigation.

During our investigations we look into all clinical and medical aspects of the incident, as well as aspects of the workplace environment and culture surrounding the incident.


Eligible babies include all term babies (at least 37 completed weeks of gestation) born following labour, who have one of the below outcomes.

We don’t investigate outcome for the baby was as a result of health problems that are present at birth, rather than those caused by labour, birth or the baby’s care after the birth .

Intrapartum stillbirth

Where the baby was thought to be alive at the start of labour but was born with no signs of life. 

Early neonatal death

When the baby died within the first week of life (0-6 days) of any cause.

Potential severe brain injury 

Potential severe brain injury diagnosed in the first 7 days of life, when the baby: 

  • Was diagnosed with grade III hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy (HIE) - brain injury caused by the baby's brain not getting enough oxygen.
  • Was therapeutically cooled (active cooling only) - when the baby’s body temperature was lowered using a cooling mattress or cap, with the aim of reducing the impact of HIE.
  • Had decreased central tone (was floppy) and was comatose and had seizures of any kind.

Definition of labour

The definition of labour used by HSIB includes:

  • Any labour diagnosed by a health professional, including the latent phase of labour at less than 4 cm cervical dilatation.
  • When the woman called the unit to report any concerns of being in labour, for example (but not limited to) abdominal pains, contractions or suspected ruptured membranes (waters breaking).
  • Induction of labour (when labour is started artificially).
  • When the baby was thought to be alive following suspected or confirmed pre-labour rupture of membranes.

This means that for us to conduct an investigation of a maternity incident under the HSIB criteria, the mother must have been in term labour as defined by these conditions.

In line with our Directions we do not investigate neonatal cases where the mother has not gone into labour - for example when a caesarean section was performed before the mother had started having contractions or ruptured her membranes.

Maternal deaths

We investigate direct or indirect maternal deaths of women while pregnant or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy.

These incidents must meet the criteria set out in ‘Saving lives, improving mothers’ care’, a report by MBRRACE-UK, which runs the national Maternal, Newborn and Infant clinical Outcome Review Programme.

We may investigate some maternal deaths which do not entirely fit within these two categories.

Our Directions exclude the investigation of cases where suicide is the cause of death.

Direct deaths

Direct deaths include those resulting from obstetric complications of the pregnant state (pregnancy, labour and after the birth), from interventions, omissions, incorrect treatment or from a chain of events resulting from any of the above.

Indirect deaths

Indirect deaths include those from previous existing disease or disease that developed during pregnancy and which was not the result of direct obstetric causes, but which was aggravated by the physiological effects of pregnancy in the perinatal period (during or within 42 days of the end of pregnancy).

What we can’t investigate 

Some maternity incidents that meet the HSIB criteria will have occurred just before our programme began nationally, or within a period where the programme had started nationally but, due to the phased rollout process, had not yet been implemented in the trust where the incident took place.

There will also be some incidents with characteristics which fall close to, but not completely within, the scope of the HSIB criteria.

Due to very specific conditions set out in the Directions that govern our programme, we have no remit to investigate these incidents and the responsibility to complete the investigation remains with the local trust.

We recognise that this may be disappointing for mothers and families who hope to see lessons from their personal experience contribute to changes at a national level to improve maternity safety.

As part of our programme we continuously assess the effectiveness of the HSIB criteria, which governs our scope of incidents for investigation. There are no current plans to change the criteria, but we hope that future adaptations will introduce some flexibility to how we can apply the criteria.

                An older woman gives a younger woman a hug.

Ideally, we prefer our investigations to start within 4 weeks of an incident taking place. We know that this is an incredibly difficult time for families, however, starting our investigation any later than this can reduce the quality of the evidence.

Families can choose how involved they want to be in our investigation. They can consent to allowing access to their medical records but then choose not to be involved at all if it’s too difficult. Or we can start, the investigation once the family has given consent to access medical records, and the family can then choose to get involved further along in the investigation process.

In cases where the family does not give their consent for HSIB to access medical records, then it’s unlikely HSIB could investigate/produce a report. Responsibility for conducting the investigation then returns to the trust

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