Bereavement care for parents who experience the death of a baby continues to be highly variable across the country. A recent survey of Trusts and Health Boards with maternity units, conducted over summer 2016 by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, suggests that many across the UK continue to lack resources to provide the level of care that bereaved families need. 

The launch of this survey is to coincide with the All Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss reception taking place today (12 October) at Speakers House and the backbench debate in the House of Commons on baby loss on Thursday 13th October.  You can read the Sands parliamentary briefing here.

Sands recommends that every parent has access to a dedicated midwife specifically trained in bereavement care, who ensures their entire team is trained.

There should also be at least one soundproofed bereavement room, with equipment such as cold cots, to accommodate the bereaved family and parents should be offered ongoing aftercare.

However the research published today has revealed that resources for bereavement care in maternity units continue to be insufficient to meet parents’ needs in some areas. Of the Trusts and Health Boards that responded to the survey, 38% of the maternity units they cover do not have a specialist bereavement midwife based at them.

Bereavement care training is mandatory in only 46% of Trusts and Health Boards. Where this training is mandatory, two thirds carry out training annually, and of those, 86% allocate only an hour or less for training. This is not enough to ensure that health professionals are sufficiently prepared to and supported in handling the complexities of caring for bereaved families.

There are also still gaps in the provision of adequate facilities to care for bereaved parents. Whilst a two thirds of Trusts and Health Boards have a dedicated bereavement room in each maternity unit they cover, one in ten still have no dedicated bereavement rooms across the Trust or Health Board.

Dr Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands, said: “The death of a baby can be devastating for expectant parents.  The impact empathetic, sensitive, individualised care has on parents is huge. They remember the care they receive, and good care can make a significant difference to their memories of that difficult experience and therefore positively impact on their grieving. A bad experience is likely to exacerbate feelings of pain and grief for bereaved parents, potentially for many years to come.

“It’s therefore crucial that Trusts and Health Boards have the right resources and policies in place to ensure bereaved parents receive the personalised care they need, and that staff are properly trained and supported to be able to provide this.”

Notes to editors

Survey response were obtained from 79 Trusts and Health Boards across the UK, covering at least 364, 2016 deliveries, 1453 stillbirths and 543 neonatal deaths in 2015. Data was collected from June- August 2016.

For further information, please contact Natalie Cooper in the Sands press office on 0203 598 1959 or 07587 925 411 or media@uk-sands.org .

About Sands

Sands is the leading stillbirth and neonatal death charity in the UK. They work nationally to reduce baby deaths through promoting better maternity care and funding research. They have a programme of training and a wide range of resources designed to support professionals to improve the bereavement care they provide following the death of a baby, and they provide a comprehensive bereavement support service both nationally through their helpline and locally through around 100 regional support groups based across the UK. Further information can be found on the About Us section of this website.