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Standards launched on bereavement care following pregnancy loss and perinatal death

These new standards define the care parents and families can expect to receive following a pregnancy loss or perinatal death. They will be “implemented and applied across the health service in all appropriate hospitals and settings”, according to the HSE.

Dr Keelin O’Donoghue, Consultant Obstetrician and Senior Lecturer, Cork University Maternity Hospital, said the publication of these standards marks “another significant step forward” for the health services and is a direct expression of “our commitment to compassionate care for patients”.

“All maternity hospitals/units will now establish or develop further Bereavement Specialist Teams to assist and support parents, families and professionals dealing with pregnancy loss. These teams will comprise staff members who have undertaken specialist and extensive education in bereavement care and will include a dedicated clinical midwife specialist in bereavement care for each maternity unit.

“They will be supported in their work by staff from other disciplines including obstetricians, paediatricians, neonatologists, chaplains, social workers and palliative care teams. The new standards also acknowledge the impact of pregnancy loss and perinatal death on staff and the importance of having formal structures in place to support staff.”

Speaking today, Minister Harris said the standards will “ensure that clinical and counselling services will be in place to support women and their families in all pregnancy loss situations, from early pregnancy loss to perinatal death, as well as situations where there is a diagnosis of a life-limiting or fatal foetal anomaly”.

He thanked the families who “generously shared their experiences” during the strategy consultation process and had offered suggestions on how care could be improved.

“I trust that their contribution, the work of the Bereavement Care Standards Development Group and the group now charged with implementing these standards will ensure that all families who have the terrible experience of a pregnancy-related bereavement will receive the care and compassion they need,” he added.

The standards have been developed in response to recommendations in both the HSE’s investigation report into the death of Savita Halappanavar and the report of Dr Peter Boylan following his review of maternity cases involving neonatal death and adverse outcomes at Portlaoise Hospital.

The HSE acknowledged the work of the expert group that developed the standards. It included representatives from obstetrics, midwifery, psychiatry, paediatrics, social work, chaplaincy and the Irish Hospice Foundation.

The group’s work was informed by a national audit of bereavement services in maternity units, a public consultation process that yielded 164 submissions, consultation with practitioners and voluntary support organisations that support parents and families as well as the development of the new National Maternity Strategy and the draft HIQA Maternity Standards.

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