‘shocking’ case of female prisoner having stillborn baby in jail toilet ‘should never happen to anyone’



An inmate gave birth to a stillborn baby in shocking circumstances in a women’s prison toilet without specialist medical help or pain relief, an investigation by the Prison Ombudsman has found.

The 30-year-old did not know she was pregnant, and a nurse who was called three times by a prison officer who expressed concern about her, refused to see the woman – and instead wrongly concluded that she was bleeding and had severe abdominal pain as a result of a painful period.

Louise Powell had previously described how she had requested an ambulance before giving birth to baby Brooke at HMP Styal, Cheshire.

The Ombudsman’s investigation (PPO) found that fellow prisoners and staff had no suspicion that Mrs Powell – mentioned Mrs B in the report – was pregnant before giving birth in an emergency on the evening of 18 June 2020.

Her roommate, even a mother of four, recognized only possible signs that Mrs. B was pregnant in hindsight.

The case raises serious questions about the health of female prisoners and came shortly after another baby’s death at HMP Bronzefield in Middlesex in 2019. Health services at HMP Styal, which seats up to 486 women, are run by Spectrum Community Health, a not-for-profit social enterprise.

The ombudsman, Sue McAllister, said she was pleased that prison staff did not miss any clear signs that Mrs Powell was pregnant during her three and a half months at Styal, but that there were missed opportunities to identify that she needed acute clinical attention in the hours before she gave birth.

Ms Powell, who was in jail for the first time, gave birth to a baby girl – possibly at 27-31 weeks pregnant and weighed 2.5 kg – on the toilet in her apartment block.

She told investigators she remembered an incident in September 2019 where she had woken up in unfamiliar surroundings without remembering anything the night before. Ms Powell said she suspected her drink had been “spiked”.

The ombudsman said Mrs Powell was suffering a “horrific, painful and traumatic experience” and her roommate and prison staff were also deeply affected. “Even from a distance, this is a deeply sad and disturbing case,” McAllister said.

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The investigation showed that a Prison Surveillance Officer (SO) made three calls to the nurse on duty, giving cause for concern to Mrs Powell, over a two-hour period from shortly before noon. 19 on 28 June.

The report said: “We do not believe that (the nurse) should have concluded from the information from (the statement of objections) that Mrs B’s situation was a maternity emergency.

However, acute abdominal pain can have a number of different causes, some of which are very serious. We consider that the information in the statement of objections was sufficient to have the nurse visit Mrs B and that she should have done so.

Regardless of the reason, it is not acceptable for someone to have unexplained acute pain for several hours without proper assessment or consideration of pain relief. If a proper triage had taken place, Mrs B could have given birth in the hospital with proper clinical support and medicine instead of in a prison toilet with untrained staff. “

said Mrs. Powell The news night last year her daughter’s death could have been avoided ”if [her condition] was taken seriously enough ”.

The ombudsman said she was unable to say whether the baby could have survived if Mrs Powell had been taken to hospital earlier that evening. “We believe this will have to be decided by a court on the basis of expert evidence commissioned for that purpose,” the report said.

Among the report’s recommendations is that women should be offered a pregnancy test at both the initial and secondary health assessments after arrival at the prison.

It further recommends that nurses in women’s prisons should be trained in recognizing premature birth and that all staff in women’s prisons should know what to do in the event of an unexpected birth.

The Prison Service and the NHS had accepted the Ombudsman’s recommendations and drawn up an action plan outlining how they would be implemented.

Spectrum said it sent its “deepest condolences” to Mrs. Powell for her distress and loss. The organization added that it was “fully committed” to ensuring that lessons were learned and that the report’s recommendations were carried out.

“We work closely with all of our staff and partners at HMP Styal to further enhance the care and support that women receive when they enter the prison environment,” a spokeswoman said.

Prison Minister Victoria Atkins said: “The tragic events described in this report should simply never happen to any woman or child, and my deepest sympathy remains with the mother.

“We have already implemented the report’s recommendations, and important improvements have been made to the care that pregnant women receive in custody. We are also looking at how we can better screen for pregnancy in prisons so that no woman falls through.

“But there is clearly a lot more to be done to ensure that expectant mothers in prison receive the same support as those in the community – something I will continue to prioritize.”

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