Bliss and Sands urge NHS to improve neonatal bereavement care

Posted on December 10, 2018

Bliss and Sands are calling for consistent, well-funded bereavement care across the whole of the UK

NHS bereavement care for parents whose baby dies shortly after they are born is worryingly inconsistent and under-resourced, according to a report published today by Bliss and Sands.

The joint Audit of Bereavement Care Provision in UK Neonatal Units (2018) reveals that most services lack sufficient specialist staffing input and appropriate facilities to support grieving families.

The report finds that despite instances of good practice by individual nurses and doctors across the country, many services are not set up to deliver consistent high quality bereavement care and health professionals are not getting the training and support they need to perform this vital role.

The report recommends steps that all NHS Trusts and Boards can take to remedy this, drawing from the National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP), a partnership between government, charities and the NHS, that sets out the standards for providing excellent care to anyone affected by pregnancy and baby loss.

Improvements to bereavement care are urgently needed as every week in the UK around 40 babies die in the neonatal period – from birth to 28 days old. The care that bereaved families receive before, during and following the death can have a critical impact upon their wellbeing in the months and years ahead.

The findings are revealed as the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show a worrying rise in infant mortality that is driven by an increasing neonatal death rate. While in recent years stillbirths have begun to fall neonatal deaths have not, refocussing the significant challenge of meeting the Government’s target to reduce perinatal deaths by 20% by 2020 and 50% by 2025.

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, said: “Of the 100,000 babies admitted to neonatal units across the UK each year, sadly some will never make it home. In light of neonatal death rates starting to rise again, the Government in England must redouble its efforts to reduce these tragic deaths in order to achieve its ambition to halve stillbirths and neonatal deaths by 2025; and that counterparts in the devolved nations do the same.

“Sadly, however, there will always be babies who do not survive due to their prematurity or the conditions they are born with. It is vitally important that Governments and NHS leaders across the UK take urgent action to ensure bereavement care in neonatal units is better resourced, and staff are better supported to deliver high quality care to parents. It is unacceptable that so many nurses and doctors do not have the bereavement care training or emotional support they need to be able to best support parents who have suffered the devastating loss of their baby.”

Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands, said: “While nothing can reduce the pain and suffering that the death of a baby causes, high quality bereavement care can help families cope with the devastating experience. Insensitive care can cause increased levels of suffering that can stay with families for a lifetime.

“This joint audit by Sands and Bliss has found much good work being done, for example almost all neonatal units said parents could access the cold or cuddle cots that allow parents to spend more time with their baby. But there remain worrying inconsistencies across the country and an urgent need for improved bereavement care in neonatal settings.

“NHS Trusts and Health Boards need to ensure that neonatal units have the support and resources they need to maintain best practice and ensure all bereaved families receive the highest quality care. I urge them to implement the recommendations of this audit and to adopt the National Bereavement Care Pathway for pregnancy and baby loss, to ensure care around baby loss is offered in line with these standards.”