There have been numerous media reports recently highlighting cases where the remains of babies that have sadly been lost during pregnancy have been stored for longer than necessary. We are sure these news reports have been devastating for the families concerned and have also caused a lot of distress and worry for many others who have ever lost babies during pregnancy or birth. We wish to reassure people that in the UK medical professionals are steered by national guidelines on the sensitive treatment of the remains of pregnancies. We do however acknowledge that it is disappointing that these guidelines have not been followed in every case, leading to potential further anxiety and distress for families concerned.
We wish to warn those using our services that today, Monday 24 March, Channel Four will be broadcasting a “Dispatches” programme entitled “Exposing Hospital Heartache” that some may find very upsetting and we recommend avoiding watching it if you think that this may be the case. The programme focuses on the care provided when women and their families lose a baby during pregnancy, at or soon after birth and, in particular, looks at where care falls short.
Our response to this and any subsequent media coverage:
The Ectopic Pregnancy Trust recognises that much of the care for patients who have suffered baby loss is appropriately and sensitively handled by medical professionals and that there are hospitals that are great examples of best practice. We do however regularly become exposed to incidences where this is not the case and think it is essential for any inadequacies to be highlighted in order for shortfalls to be rectified.
Our view is identical to that of the Miscarriage Association as expressed on their website. We believe that NHS Trusts should follow these steps to provide the best possible care for patients:
1. Learn from patients and patient organisations as to what good care means including high clinical standards, good communication, sensitivity, and compassion.
2. Follow existing guidelines on the sensitive disposal of pregnancy remains, including as published by the Human Tissue Authority, the Royal College of Nursing, the Stillbirth and Neonatal Death Society (SANDS) and the current Scottish government protocol.
3. Follow the lead of other hospitals which practice excellent care.
4. Seek guidance and advice from pregnancy loss support organisations like the Ectopic Pregnancy Trust, the Miscarriage Association and SANDS.
5. Make use of the patient support and information provided by such organisations.
6. Ensure good training and support for staff who care for patients who lose a baby in pregnancy or at birth.
We hope that the cases highlighted in recent enquiries and in the programme will lead to a more general review of policy and practice across the NHS and a renewed drive to ensure that they always take account of the needs, feelings and wishes of the parents involved.
For anyone affected by issues raised in Monday night’s programme or other media stories, there are a number of organisations which can be contacted for both immediate and longer-term help: