Dozens of maternity units are failing to provide adequate care for bereaved parents who have suffered a stillbirth, says a report out today.

A survey of NHS trusts by the charity Sands found that just 45 per cent have a room where parents can go to avoid the sights and sounds of women in labour and healthy babies.

More than half have no dedicated midwife trained in bereavement, and less than a third run bereavement-training sessions for doctors.

An average of 17 babies a day are stillborn or die shortly after birth in the UK. However, the survey of 77 NHS trusts found that care is poorly resourced and organised in 20 per cent of them, and is patchy in others.

It also found that more than 50 per cent of units continue to use communal graves for babies, with just 35 per cent using lockable covers. Many hospitals offer burials for babies who die during or soon after birth. They typically place several babies in each grave and do not pack the ground down fully until the grave is full.

The report warns that if it is not properly covered, there is a "very real risk" that a grave may be disturbed and the baby's body harmed.

"Lockable grave covers should always be used on a shared grave until it is full and the ground can be reconstituted," it states.

Earlier this year, a London couple were told by police that the body of their five-day-old son had been taken by a fox after being placed in a communal grave.

Godwin and Emem Iferi said their son David's coffin was covered only by planks of wood, allowing the animal to remove the body, which has never been found.

Judith Schott, who is improving care manager at Sands, said: "The fact that care in most units is good is of no help or comfort to those parents whose baby dies in a unit where care and resources are poor.

"Good care cannot remove the pain of parents' loss, but poor care makes things worse and affects their short and long-term well-being," she added.