No long-term specialist baby-loss counselling across much of Scotland

By Bill Heaney

NHS health  boards in Scotland should, within best practice guidance, provide tailored care and support to parents who experience stillbirth,  the Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport told parliament today.

Maree Todd said: “We are committed to supporting families who have experienced stillbirth and other types of baby loss.

“That is why we have invested £578,000 over the past four years in a range of initiatives to improve care for families who experience baby loss.

“In addition, we have provided approximately £150,000 a year to support improvement activity, research and audit, in order to drive further improvements in clinical care to reduce the incidence of stillbirth.” 

MSP Fulton MacGregor: replied: “I have been working with a group in my constituency called Baby Loss Retreat, which supports patients who experience baby loss at all stages.

“They have told me that aftercare for parents is often inconsistent and, in some cases, is inadvertently retraumatising—for example, when people are treated close to newborn babies, who might be heard crying.

“Is the Government considering reviewing the protocols that are in place to allow people who experience stillbirth to receive the more tailored and specialist support service that they require?

Maree Todd, pictured right,  told him: “Absolutely. I am aware of the work of Baby Loss Retreat and of Fulton MacGregor’s efforts to highlight it.

The Scottish Government is committed to supporting families who have experienced baby loss through high-quality and sensitive bereavement care. We have provided £178,000 of funding over four years to the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society—known as Sands—to develop the national bereavement care pathway for pregnancy and baby loss in Scotland.

“Sands will work with bereaved parents, baby-loss charities and royal colleges to develop the pathway, and it will put the voices of bereaved parents at the heart of the vision.

“The pathway will allow health professionals to provide evidence-based care and will describe best practice for bereavement care following miscarriage, termination of pregnancy for foetal anomaly, stillbirth, neonatal death or the sudden unexpected death of an infant.

“The bereavement care pathway is currently being piloted in four early-adopter health boards in Scotland. Unfortunately, full roll-out had to be paused while health board resources were focused on dealing with the Covid pandemic, but we expect work to recommence early next year.”

Tory MSP Jeremy Balfour complained: “We would not send someone who has cancer or another illness home without support in the community, but across much of Scotland there is no long-term specialist baby-loss counselling.

“Will the Government carry out an audit of where the gaps are so that we at least have a picture of where services need to be provided? Will the minister commit to working with the third sector in particular to provide such services where they are not provided at present?”

Maree Todd assured him: “Absolutely. We are committed to improvements. The work with Sands to develop the national bereavement care pathway focuses on that. We have also provided £400,000 to baby-loss charities in Scotland to provide front-line support to parents.

“Those charities include: the Simpson’s Memory Box Appeal—SiMBA—Sands, Baby Loss Retreat, Bliss Scotland, Held in Our Hearts, Edinburgh Children’s Hospital Charity, the Miscarriage Association and Scottish Care & Information on Miscarriage.

“We are determined to improve that area of care, and we have a lot of work going on. I am more than happy to hear more details from Mr Balfour if there are areas that we can work on together.”

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