Julie Wills, a Midwife at St Michael’s Hospital in Bristol has won the Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care from Sands, the UK’s leading pregnancy and baby loss charity.

The UK Award is in recognition of her excellent work caring for parents and other family members following a pregnancy loss or the death of a baby. Even the best care can’t take away the pain of pregnancy loss or the death of a baby, but it can help parents and families through a devastating time.

“I was taken aback to be nominated by a bereaved family or parent that I have had had the honour to look after and care for at a very emotional and life changing time. At the same time, I feel humble that I would have made such an impression on these families that they feel I need to be acknowledged for it.

“I am also surprised, however also privileged, to receive the recognition from the Sands panel, as I am sure all of the nominees are worthy of this nomination.”

-Julie Wills, Midwife and winner of this year's award

Julie was nominated by two family members; bereaved mum, Natalie and bereaved grandparent, Julie. In their nominations, they describe Julie as ‘a shining light’ and praised her for her tailored approach in caring for baby Aurora and their family.

Bereaved mum, Natalie said: “Immediately on arrival to the delivery suite, she asked if I needed a hug, it was the exact thing I needed. She was amazing, everything she did was tailored to how we needed to be handled. She became like family.

“She understood our needs immediately and adapted her care to suit us. She referred to us as ‘mum and dad’ when talking about us as she knew and appreciated that one of my heartbreaks was that I felt we would no longer be parents and she was quick to dismiss this and say that we would always be this baby’s parents no matter what.”

Bereaved grandparent, Julie said: “She has been our guardian angel as we navigate the worst journey we could have imagined for our family. We will always be grateful for Julie being assigned to the delivery. She arrived like a shining light at my daughter’s hour of need. She created a haven when all around felt threatening and created a cocoon for my daughter and son in law to deliver, meet and grieve for their child.”

Midwife Julie Wills receiving her award at Sands Garden Day

More about this year’s winner

Julie Wills has worked in the NHS for 23 years and for 12 of those worked as a Healthcare Assistant supporting midwifery teams. It was during this time she realised she knew she wanted to be there for people to help them through their birth and beyond.

She said: “During those years I would help look after women and their families who had suffered unimaginable losses. Seeing the pain and grief on their faces as they were told that their baby's heart had stopped beating was just heartbreaking to see. I wanted to be there for these families both professionally and emotionally and help guide them through their birth journey and beyond.”

Following her passion, Julie then qualified as a Midwife and for the last 10 years has worked in a clinical role caring for women and families, before more recently taking up a managerial role.

She said: “I always say my job can be the best job in the world and it can be the worst job in the world, but I know that when I walk into the room I am going to provide my best care and hopefully guide each and every family through the journey that awaits them.”

“The Elaine Thorp Award is a wonderful opportunity for bereaved parents and family members to thank the healthcare professionals who cared for them and their babies. It is also a special way for us to recognise the amazing work of healthcare workers who care for families after pregnancy loss or the death of a baby. 

“We received more than 60 nominations for the Elaine Thorp Award this year, but Julie stood out to the Sands panel for being able to truly understand the needs of baby Aurora’s family and tailoring the care she provided to them. It was touching to read the words mum, Natalie, and grandparent, Julie, wrote. All of those nominated should be very proud of themselves and the care they provide.”

-Clea Harmer, Sands' Chief Executive

Dr Clea Harmer presenting Julie with her award

The Award was presented to Julie at Sands Garden Day in Staffordshire on 22 June by Sands’ Chief Executive, Dr Clea Harmer. 

More about the Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care

The Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care aims to recognise the vital work done by midwives, nurses, and other health professionals to care for parents affected by pregnancy loss or the death of their baby.

Elaine Thorp was a midwife who personified good bereavement care and a true pioneer in listening to bereaved parents. Elaine first became aware of the need for better bereavement care in the late 1970s and became involved with Sands in 1991 when she took on the role of Bereavement Officer at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Elaine retired from the NHS in 2007 and sadly died in 2013, but those with whom she worked and volunteered remember her with great affection. 

Nominations for the 2025 Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care are now open. Bereaved parents and other family members can nominate any health professional who was involved in their care or the care of someone they know, following pregnancy loss or the death of a baby.

Sands is here to support anyone affected by pregnancy or baby loss, for as long as they need this. Find out more about all the ways the charity offers bereavement support

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