I obviously associate myself with many of the comments that have been made today, particularly those of my hon. Friend Antoinette Sandbach and Patricia Gibson, who talked very movingly about their personal experiences.
I suppose that not many of us necessarily think about this issue if we have not experienced it, or think about the support that is available. I must confess that I had not considered the issue in any great depth, because I had had no personal family experience of it, and of course one assumes that all the services will be there to support people at this most vulnerable of times. It was not until someone came to talk to me about the project that I described in an intervention on the Minister’s speech—at that early stage, I was not sure whether I would have an opportunity to speak myself—that I gave any thought to the experience of bereaved parents in a maternity suite.
That brilliant project was initiated by the Health Tree Foundation in north Lincolnshire, which is the hospital charity for the North Lincolnshire and Goole NHS Foundation Trust. I pay particular tribute to the member of my staff who raised the subject with me, Julie Reed, who is my community support manager. She tasks herself with going out and supporting local good causes, and as a result has managed to write funding bids and bring in more than £1 million. This was a cause that she took up on my behalf, and, through her brilliant ability to write funding bids, she helped to secure £22,500 towards the £175,000 project. A lot of people did a lot of work, particularly, as I have said, the Health Tree Foundation, and the maternity suite itself.
Let me say a little about what the suite does and what it means. It opened in July, and is known as the Cherished suite. When the experience was described to me of being in a maternity suite and being bereaved, it struck me that there were two things that a bereaved parent might not want to do. First, they might not want to go home very quickly, and secondly, they might want to be in the suite, but not necessarily surrounded by people whose children are being delivered and who are experiencing that most joyous of moments. The brilliant job that the midwives and all the professional staff do to support those parents was not in doubt. Rather, it was about the ability of bereaved parents to have a safe and quiet private space on the maternity suite, like every other parent, where they can enjoy that important time with their baby and bring their family in; a space where they will not be rushed out, but where they can stay for as long as they require. That is exactly what the Cherished suite, which is now open at Scunthorpe central maternity suite, is providing. It is on the maternity suite, but in a private, quiet area.
I want to quote the experience of one set of parents, who sadly lost their daughter Alicia in 2017, before the suite was opened, who have talked about what it would have meant for them:
“When we lost our daughter, we were in the middle of the delivery suite, surrounded by people doing their jobs and delivering newborn babies. Other couples were walking out with babies and it felt like we had been stabbed in the heart.”
Other parents who have experienced the same have described to me how they felt that they had in some way failed, which is a terrible thing to hear. Those parents continued:
“We didn’t have the opportunity to use a place like this to heal and recover from the heartbreak. It would have helped tremendously—it’s quiet and you couldn’t hear anyone outside the room”— a safe space for them to spend that time with their baby.
I am so proud that the Health Tree Foundation has been able to deliver that service for our area, because the suite is a place where parents can spend time with baby, but also where memories are made. The Health Tree Foundation provides memory makers, who do prints of baby’s hands, and even casts of legs and arms, and make teddy bears from the clothes that the babies would have worn. I hope that we can look at that idea, whether in the design of new maternity suites or in providing support for existing maternity suites, to ensure a place where bereaved parents can spend time with baby in privacy on the maternity suite, with the support of every other parent there, but in a way that is sensitive to their particular needs.
I should add that the suite of course provides all the necessary support and information that is so often required for ongoing mental health needs. I particularly associate myself with the comments of Justin Madders about the vital role that can be played by talking therapies, which is something that I have more personal experience of. Talking therapies are so undervalued. They can be used in so many ways, but this is one area where parents need to have absolutely guaranteed access to them.
I do not want to say anything more, other than to thank the health foundation in northern Lincolnshire and Goole for providing that service. I also thank the maternity staff, who were doing a brilliant job anyway in supporting bereaved parents, but who have got behind the project so enthusiastically and now have a special private place, as people walk into the suite, where they can do even more to support bereaved parents. We are of course not the only place where something like that happens, but I found it striking that it does not happen automatically and that there is not such a space everywhere. I agree with so much that has been said today and pay tribute to all those who have done so much in this area, both here and outside this place.