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Shortfalls in bereavement training for neonatal nurses 'unacceptable'

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All nursing and midwifery staff who come face to face with parents suffering the loss of a baby shortly after birth should receive training on how best to support them, charities have urged.

They said these professionals should also be able to access emotional support themselves to help them cope with traumatic situations such as the death of an infant.

“It is unacceptable that so many nurses do not have the bereavement care training or emotional support they need”

Caroline Lee-Davey

The recommendations are set out in a new report (see PDF attached below) by Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, and Bliss, for babies born premature and sick.

They have carried out an audit of bereavement care provision in UK neonatal units, as latest figures show around 40 babies a week across the nation die in the period between birth to 28 days old.

The charities found that just 38% of neonatal nurses are taught about bereavement care as part of their regular training sessions.

The report noted: “By improving bereavement care skills and knowledge the confidence of staff working in this area is also increased, which can help to reduce stress and assist staff and units in providing high quality care consistently.”

Meanwhile, more than a quarter of units do not have measures in place to provide emotional support for neonatal nurses, the charities revealed.

“The provision of effective, ongoing support for staff who work with bereaved families is critical to ensuring their long-term wellbeing, and maintaining high levels of care within the unit,” the report said.

“High quality bereavement care can help families cope with the devastating experience”

Clea Harmer

“Hospitals should ensure that these measures are in place in every setting where staff may care for parents who have experienced the death of a baby,” it added.

The report also found that while the majority (83%) of units have access to at least one specialist bereavement lead, only 14% had dedicated time to perform this role.

Furthermore, it highlighted that 17% of units do not have access to a specific space for supporting bereaved families.

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.” 


Clea Harmer

Clea Harmer

She added: “Insensitive care can cause increased levels of suffering that can stay with families for a lifetime.”

Caroline Lee-Davey, chief executive of Bliss, said: “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.”

“The RCM appreciates the value that good bereavement care has”

Gail Johnson

Responding to the findings, Gail Johnson, education advisor at the Royal College of Midwives and the organisation’s lead on bereavement care, said it was “disappointing” that families going through the loss of a baby were not always getting the best care.

She added: “The RCM appreciates the value that good bereavement care has to support families whose baby has died.”

The report also recommends that all neonatal should have access to:

  • A trained bereavement lead with adequate time and resources to do their job;
  • At least one bereavement room, designed or situated so parents are not able to hear other families and babies;
  • Adapted post-mortem consent forms suitable for bereaved parents and senior member of staff trained to handle these requests;
  • Translators so that family members are not routinely asked to interpret materials.

The recommendations in the report are based on the National Bereavement Care Pathway standards, which were rolled out nationally in October 2018 and sets out guidelines for providing excellent care to anyone affected by pregnancy and baby loss.

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