Speech by Minister Simon Harris – Launch of the HSE National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for the kind invitation to launch the National Standards for Bereavement Care following Pregnancy Loss and Perinatal Death. I am pleased to be here with you all to mark this important occasion and to launch these much needed standards.

For most people, pregnancy and birth is a joyous life event. Sadly, however, many families suffer a pregnancy-related bereavement. I know that we have people here today who have experienced such a devastating loss, and I would like to particularly thank you for attending.

To learn that your unborn child or newborn baby is unwell and is not going to grow to achieve all that you wish for, or is not going to survive, must be one of the most harrowing situations imaginable for any parent. The family’s aspirations and dreams for the child are taken away and replaced with grief and distress, at the very time when the family should be facing a future with joy, hope and happiness. Some families have to face the knowledge their child will not survive and may make the difficult decision to terminate the pregnancy.

Most importantly, all of these families need to know that, regardless of the nature of the loss, appropriate support will be available, if and when required. Regrettably Ireland has been behind the curve in bereavement care, and much of the need for bereavement support has been unmet. Today marks a new beginning in that regard.

The standards being launched today are designed to enhance bereavement care services for parents who experience a pregnancy loss or perinatal death.

I am pleased that 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 foetal anomaly that may be life limiting or fatal.

Bereavement care must be an integral part of any maternity service. It is important that such care is integrated with the hospital’s overall medical and clinical care response to bereaved parents. The standards underline the important role that healthcare professionals play in providing a caring and compassionate response to parents, including that of the bereavement specialist teams. They describe the standardised structures, clinical process and compassionate responses that should be in place across all maternity services for parents who experience a pregnancy loss or perinatal death. The linkages between maternity bereavement care and other hospital and associated services such as primary care, public health nursing and palliative care are also outlined.

The development and publication of these standards represent one of a number of important improvements taking place in this landmark year for maternity services.

The Programme for a Partnership Government commits to implementing Ireland’s first ever National Maternity Strategy “Creating a Better Future Together”, which was published last January. The strategy sets out the vision for the future of Ireland’s maternity services. It recommends that services should be woman-centred, and provide integrated, team-based care. It proposes a new model of care such that every woman will be able to access the right level of care, from the right professional, at the right time and in the right place.

The Strategy also recognises the importance of improving and standardising bereavement care throughout the maternity service. My Department is grateful to the many families who generously shared their experiences during the strategy consultation process and offered suggestions on how such care could be improved.

I should also mention that HIQA has recently finalised National Standards for Safer Better Maternity Services, and these have, very recently, been submitted to me. The Standards will provide a framework for maternity service providers to ensure that they are meeting the needs of women, their babies and their partners, and that a consistent service is delivered across the country.

The Government is committed to the progressive development of our maternity services and, in that regard, the National Maternity Strategy and the National Standards represent the necessary building blocks to provide a consistently safe and high quality maternity service.

I look forward to the full establishment by the HSE of the National Women & Infants Health Programme to drive improvements in our maternity services. The Programme will lead the implementation of the Strategy and, in conjunction with the Bereavement Standards Implementation Group, will play a key role in overseeing the implementation of the Bereavement Standards.

On that note, I am pleased that an additional €3m funding has been provided by the Government for maternity services this year. This has enabled the HSE to approve the recruitment of an additional 100 midwives, to support the work of our current staff, some of whom I see in attendance here today.

The additional funding will also facilitate the recruitment of the much needed bereavement specialist teams for our maternity hospitals and units. I understand that recruitment of additional Clinical Midwife Specialists in Bereavement Care will commence shortly.

In conclusion, I would like to acknowledge and congratulate the Bereavement Care Standards Development Group on all their hard work over the last two years. I would like to thank all the families and voluntary organisations who participated in the consultation process. I am told that your contributions were instrumental in the development of the standards. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to wish the Standards Implementation Group well in their work. I trust that this work will ensure that all families who have the terrible experience of a pregnancy-related bereavement will receive the care and compassion they need.

Thank you.