HEALTH chiefs have apologised to a grieving mother ­— due to the distressing way medics dealt with the stillbirth of her baby daughter.

Claire Mulkeen can only now bring herself to talk about the tragic death of little Penny who was stillborn just over four years ago at Royal Bolton Hospital.

The 30-year-old received the heartbreaking news that her unborn baby did not have a heartbeat­ on a check-up appointment — and then had to return to the hospital the next day to give birth.

But on her arrival at the maternity unit she was confronted with the sight of happy new mums and dads with their newborn children ­— knowing that her experience would be very different.

To make matters worse, the next day, Claire was called by the antenatal outpatients clinic to ask why she had not attended an appointment.

She said: "A week after I’d lost Penny I was supposed to be seen by the bereavement team.

“Since then I’ve been told they knew there was a gap in the system for counselling.

“When I asked the consultant at Bolton about duty of candour (a legal duty for medics to be open and honest with patients when something goes wrong ) admitted they’d failed me.

“As long as other women don’t get the same treatment as me that’s all I ask – I don’t want to go to a solicitor for money I just truly want care to change.”

A J Tomlinson, a consultant obstetrician for Bolton NHS Foundation Trust, apologised to Claire in a letter.

He wrote: “The trauma of the event was added to when you returned the following day in that you met families leaving the unit with healthy children.

“I can only apologise for the added distress this caused you.”

Val Clare, head of midwifery for the Bolton Trust, said: “A stillbirth is such an unexpected and devastating event for a family and here at Bolton we work hard to do what we can to reduce the risk.

“Our stillbirth rate is below the national average. We report and review all cases of stillbirth.

“We’re truly sorry to hear that Claire is unhappy with aspects of her care and would very much like to discuss this with her in person and to provide her with any support she requires.”

Claire suffered further heartbreak when she lost another daughter Hallie in pregnancy.

She says it was then that she realised how poor her treatment had been for her first baby.

She said: "When I lost Hallie at Manchester, the bereavement midwife explained it was a postcode lottery as to who got support and the staff there were amazing.

"It was them that recognised that I couldn’t move past the grief over losing Penny but I could accept what happened with Hallie which is why they put me back in touch with Bolton hospital."

Claire has struggled to come to terms with the loss of Penny, and has only recently found the strength to speak about her experience to ensure care standards improve.

She believes that failings in her care have been a major contributing factor to how difficult it has been for her to recover from Penny’s death.

She was not able to go back to her rented house after her daughter’s death, with her parents boxing everything up and moving it out for her.

She says the loss of her second daughter was much easier for her to come to terms with ­— and believes that this is because of the support she received from the staff at St Mary’s Hospital in Manchester.