Care for bereaved parents 'must improve'

By Becky Kelly & Sarah Bell
Victoria Derbyshire programme

Image caption,
Antoinette Sanbach is the Conservative MP for Eddisbury in Cheshire

Bereavement services for families whose babies are stillborn or die shortly after birth are "not good enough", a government health minister has said.

It follows an investigation by Conservative MP Antoinette Sandbach who found services were "patchy" with some parents unable to access help.

She broke down in the Commons last year as she spoke about losing her own baby.

Neonatal care minister Ben Gummer said he was working to ensure there was consistent support across the UK.

In 2013, one in every 216 births in the UK was a stillbirth, while one in every 370 babies died within the first four weeks of life, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show.

Media caption,
Care for bereaved parents 'must improve'

Mrs Sandbach, who represents Eddisbury in Cheshire and is a former Welsh Assembly Member, has been investigating the disparity of bereavement care in hospitals in the UK.

Her son, Sam, died in 2009 from sudden infant death syndrome when he was five days old. She says there was no bereavement counselling available where she lived and she only got help when a charity paid for a counsellor to visit her home.

Mrs Sandbach told the Victoria Derbyshire programme: "Parents who are coping with the pain bewilderment and grief of losing a child should not need to battle for support.

"The best hospital trusts have a clear pathway to that support and the Department of Health needs to use the resources it has committed to ensure that is available across the NHS."

Case study

Amelia Renshaw had twins in 2014, but her daughter Isabel got bronchiolitis and died at six weeks old.

"The hospital was great. They helped us make a memory box, all the little, little things that make it slightly more bearable.

"But once we'd left there was nothing there - I was given the numbers of five or six organisations to speak to for support. Every time I had to tell the story, which was more than painful at that time.

"I had five "nos" and I was mortified, so upset, because I needed this support really early, and I was just getting "no" because she was too young, too old, didn't die of the right thing, and it was just horrendous.

"Isabel died on 3 January - I think I saw somebody in the middle to the end of March, and she was fantastic, but in that period I didn't know what I was doing, I needed guidance.

"I told her how I was feeling and she said it was normal and fine and it was like a huge relief. But if only I'd had that at the beginning."

Stillbirth and neonatal death charity Sands recommended that each hospital should have a dedicated midwife specifically trained in bereavement care, who ensures the entire team is trained.

There should also be soundproofed facilities with equipment such as cold cots to accommodate the bereaved and parents should be offered ongoing aftercare, it said.

"The impact empathetic, sensitive, individualised care has on parents is huge. They remember the care they receive, and good care can make a huge difference to their memories of that difficult experience and make a huge difference to their grieving," said Cheryl Tithererly, of the charity.

One hospital which is considered to give good care is the Alder Centre at Alder Hey Hospital in Liverpool. Parents can spend time with their baby in a bereavement suite where they are supported by staff who can help them register a death, liaise with the coroner or arrange the child's funeral. It also offers counselling and a 24-hour helpline.

John, the counsellor who worked with Mrs Sandbach said: "I think you'll find that what we've got here in this part of the country is unique. We will support any parent who can get to us - what we've found is there's a lot of areas that don't have bereavement support."

Minister for Neonatal Care Ben Gummer said: "The problem is a smaller one than it was some years ago but it's still not good enough.

"You might get some hospitals with a good bereavement suite but there isn't a full-time bereavement nurse, and there might not be good counselling after a death.

"What we need to do is make sure we have a really joined-up pathway in all hospitals so we provide consistent support."

The Victoria Derbyshire programme is broadcast on weekdays between 09:15 and 11:00 on BBC Two and the BBC News channel.

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.