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Baby Loss Awareness Week

Part of Business of the House (Prorogation) – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 8th October 2019.

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Photo of Antoinette Sandbach Antoinette Sandbach Independent, Eddisbury 5:34 pm, 8th October 2019

I absolutely do, and I shall come on to that. Having been through the system in Wales, where absolutely no bereavement care at all was offered to me—a charity set up by a former Member of Parliament paid for me to have counselling from Alder Hey—I am as aware as anyone of the issues around access to support. Some 130 NHS trusts have expressed an interest in using the bereavement care pathway, and they should be encouraged to take up best practice.

It is not all good news, however. The reality is that while many hospital trusts are now putting that support in place, the gap in provision comes when parents go back into the community. It is there that the issues need to be tackled. The information gathered by the Baby Loss Awareness Alliance showed that there was a clear need for specialist psychological support for parents. A freedom of information request sent out by Sands in July 2019 painted a picture of very patchy support, with commissioners in over 86% of areas across the UK telling us that they do not commission specialist therapies to support bereaved parents. That is quite scandalous when we look at the good progress that has been made in the acute sector. That is where the gap is present.

Less than 40% of commissioners said that that support was available for both parents, so when it was available, it was only available for one parent. That is completely wrong, for all the reasons my hon. Friend the Member for Colchester has outlined. It should not matter whether someone is a mum or dad; they should be able to access specialist psychological support if it is needed. Why is that important? Some 60% of bereaved parents said that, in the end, they did feel that they needed psychological support. Certainly, I did not want to talk to a load of volunteers; I wanted to talk to a professional who could give me the tools and the understanding to cope with the loss of my daughter and to be able to go back to work and start functioning in a normal way.

It is right to acknowledge that women who experience stillbirth, miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy are at high risk of post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. I remember giving a speech to a City law firm, where I was told that it was extremely common that mothers never went back to work having lost a child, because of the impact of that loss on them. By investing in that support, we encourage the family to stay together and to get to a place where it is possible to live with loss and still contribute to society.

Where there has been a sudden or unexpected death, 39% of women three months after suffering an early pregnancy loss met the criteria for probable to moderate post-traumatic stress disorder. Some 68% of mothers and 44% of partners reported four or more negative psychological symptoms at 10 days. The important Bill brought forward by my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake, which allowed some paid bereavement leave for parents, allows some time for parents to come to terms with the issues they face and, very importantly, to find the services that will help them to deal with the loss they have suffered.

I encourage Ministers to read the “Life after Loss” report, which was published last week by the Centre for Mental Health. I support the Minister in the ambition to roll out national centres that will permit parents to access support locally, working with commissioners and the third sector, which can very often have expertise in this area. Support can be commissioned locally without the need for infrastructure, because there is already a third sector organisation. I am thinking of the Petals Charity, for example, which provides counselling. However, its services are not provided all over the UK.

There is another really good example in Wales: 2 Wish Upon A Star. This charity is proactive and not reactive in its approach. It contacts parents within hours of them leaving hospital to discuss their loss and to see what support they need. It can then put a counsellor in a car and on the way to the bereaved parents within hours, rather than them having to wait weeks or months for a referral. If we could roll out that kind of service, delivered by the third sector but supported by the national health service, in areas where there are gaps in provision, that would make a huge difference to parents’ lives.

As chair of the all-party group on baby loss, I said that I would not only celebrate success but hold feet to the fire, so I ask the Government to undertake a review of the current provision, including the evaluation of the models of best practice involving parents and professionals, and to develop quality standards and national guidance to support those planning, funding and delivering specialist psychological support—that must be delivered at CCG level. Acute hospitals are really beginning to deal with this, but the provision at a local level needs to be addressed. I also ask the Government to provide guidance to support local services to effectively assess the psychological support needs of bereaved parents and develop pathways to meet those needs.

It is a real pleasure that we can speak in this debate—an advantage of not proroguing—at the beginning of Baby Loss Awareness Week. It shows the valuable work that is done in this House and that is achieved through cross-party working with a Government who have been really committed to pushing forward this agenda. However, there is more work to do, and with the previous commitment to try to put mental health services on a par with physical health services, this is an area that needs addressing so that that support is put in place.