New techniques at pilot sites to improve bereavement care for parents

Adobe Spark (1)A new pathway has been launched to improve the quality of care for parents who have lost a baby. The National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP) seeks to offer individualised, safe and sensitive care for parents and families at all stages of pregnancy and baby loss up to 12 months.

Led by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, it has been produced in collaboration with a core group of charities and professional bodies, comprising the Institute of Health Visiting, the Royal College of Midwives, NHS England, the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, the Royal College of Nurses, Neonatal Nurses Association, Bliss, Antenatal Results & Choices, The Lullaby Trust and Miscarriage Association. It also has the support of the Department of Health and the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Baby Loss.

The first wave of 11 pilot sites has been rolled out across the UK to coincide with Baby Loss Awareness Week and includes Wirral University Teaching Hospital NHS Foundation Trust, Liverpool Women’s NHS Foundation Trust, and Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. The sites were chosen to be ‘representative of geography, capacity and specialism’, and will trial the use of new materials, guidelines and training for professionals to help improve the care that bereaved parents receive.

The latest figures show that in 2015 there were over 2,500 infant deaths (that is, deaths under 1 year of age) in England and Wales, with stillbirths and deaths of infants under 7 days accounting for around 6.5 deaths per 1,000 total births (Office for National Statistics, 2017).

Clea Harmer, chair of the NBCP Core Group and CEO of Sands, comments: ‘I am delighted that we have so many enthusiastic partners across the country who want to work with us in improving bereavement care for parents when a baby dies.

‘As a collaboration, we were inundated with offers of support and I am excited by the potential impact that the pathway will have in these 11 sites, in the first instance. We  look forward to learning from their experiences before wave 2 begins and the wider rollout later next year.’

A spokesperson for the Institute of Health Visiting says: ‘The Institute is pleased to be one of the key partners in the project group working to deliver a National Bereavement Care Pathway for England, with the support of the Department of Health and All-Party Parliamentary Group for Baby Loss.

‘We are really keen to support the project group with identification of community health providers [which employ health visitors] that are willing to be included in the second pilot phase. This will ensure that the pathway offers clear, consistent guidance to health visitors and enable them to work confidently alongside parents, providing compassionate and parent-centred care to those affected through use of the pathway.’

Sue Cooper is the bereavement midwife at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust. She highlighted the important role that bereavement midwives play in providing support for parents who have lost a child:

‘Losing a child is an incredibly difficult experience and something that no parent should ever have to go through,’ Cooper says. ‘If they do, however, it’s important that we, as health professionals, are able to provide the right advice, information and support for bereaved parents.

‘The quality of care and the empathy shown to parents at a time when they are struggling with a whole range of different emotions is crucial, and our role in guiding bereaved parents through this difficult time is not to be underestimated. How we care for bereaved families when their baby dies can have long-lasting effects. Good care can’t remove parents’ pain and grief, but it can help them through a devastating experience.

Cooper is hoping bereavement care in Hull and East Yorkshire will improve as a result of being one of the pilot sites on the new pathway: ‘We’re really pleased to have been chosen to pilot the new care pathway,’ she says. ‘We’re not only hoping to improve the care we personally provide for bereaved parents, but it will mean a lot to know that what we do here in Hull and East Yorkshire will go on to shape and improve services provided for others right across the country.’

Since the project was initiated, it has engaged with over 200 professionals and 60 parents, completing a gap analysis of current pathways, guidance and research. A number of pregnancy and baby loss pathways have been created, with input from members of the NBCP Parental Advisory Group, which shared their stories to help inform the pathway.

Cathy Warwick, chief executive at the Royal College of Midwives, says: ‘This is important work because it is about giving bereaved families better care following the sad loss of a baby and we need to get it right. Learning from parents and the results of the work at the pilot sites will mean care can be better tailored to meet the needs of families.’

According to Carmel Bagness, Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for midwifery and women’s health, it is the responsibility of healthcare staff to support bereaved parents: ‘The loss of a baby is an absolute tragedy and it is up to healthcare staff to provide the best care possible for bereaved parents and families,’ she says. ‘This pathway could really help to improve the care they receive during this difficult time. We hope this pilot is just the first step towards better care throughout the country for parents and families suffering from this terrible loss.’

Caroline Lee-Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss, adds: ‘Bliss is proud to be partnering on this project to improve bereavement care for pregnancy and infant loss. We know that being supported in the right way can help grieving parents and families at this heart-breakingly difficult time, and we look forward to working with the pilot sites to deliver consistent, high-quality and parent-centred care.’

A second wave of pilot sites is planned for April 2018, with a national rollout expected later in October.

References

Office for National Statistics. Childhood mortality in England and Wales: 2015. London: ONS; 2017.

Taken from Journal of Health Visiting, published November 2017.

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