Care for bereaved parents can and must improve

A coalition of more than 60 charities behind Baby Loss Awareness Week 2018 are calling on all NHS Trusts and Boards across the UK to improve bereavement care for anyone affected by pregnancy and baby loss.

This year, Baby Loss Awareness Week marks the roll-out of the National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP), a ground-breaking programme set to transform bereavement care for thousands of families each year.

Dr Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands (stillbirth and neonatal death charity), said: “Bereavement care for anyone who has suffered a miscarriage or pregnancy loss, or the death of a baby, must get better and we believe we have the solution.

“The roll-out of the National Bereavement Care Pathway for pregnancy and baby loss is a crucial step towards ensuring that all health professionals in the UK can provide excellent bereavement care. I urge all NHS Trusts and Health Boards to adopt the Pathway and ensure care around baby loss is offered in line with these standards.”

For many years, the bereavement care offered to parents has remained worryingly inconsistent and dependant on where parents live, at what stage of pregnancy or birth their loss occurs, and whether individual healthcare professionals are equipped to respond.

The Westminster Government has supported the development and roll-out of the NBCP in England, and an evaluation of eleven pilot sites found that more than three quarters of healthcare professionals who were aware of the Pathway said that bereavement care had improved in their trust during the trial period.

A range of politicians including Matt Hancock MP, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, and members of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss, have recorded video messages supporting Baby Loss Awareness Week and the roll out of the NBCP.

Dr Harmer added: “Good bereavement care is rooted in simple acts of kindness and respect, giving a family whose world has fallen apart the time they need with their baby, and minimising anything that could add to their suffering. It cannot remove parents’ pain and grief, but it can help them through this devastating time. In contrast, poor care can significantly add to a family’s distress.

“I hope that the public, health professionals, and politicians alike will back this vital programme so that every family heartbroken by the death of their babies is offered the very best bereavement care and support, wherever they live in the UK, when they need it, for as long as they need it.”

The NBCP standards include:

  • All bereaved parents given opportunities to spend time making memories with their precious babies;
  • A dedicated bereavement room available and accessible in every hospital;
  • Bereavement care training for all staff who have contact with grieving parents;
  • Support for healthcare staff dealing with the trauma of baby loss so that they are able to care for bereaved parents.

A survey of bereaved parents who received care through the NBCP pilot sites found that 98% agreed they were treated with respect and 96% felt they were communicated with sensitively.

“I have three other children and although this was the worst possible outcome from a delivery this was my nicest birth and the midwives were so wonderful. You made an awful situation the best it could possibly be. For this I will be forever grateful. Thank you.” – bereaved parent.

The Scottish government has pledged funding and support over the next two years, with a plan to pilot, implement and embed the NBCP across Scotland.

The National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly have access to all the information about the NBCP, are considering how to use it to improve bereavement care in their nations, and hope to have pilot sites live during 2019.