MPs debate bereavement support during Baby Loss Awareness Week

MPs discussed baby loss and the bereavement support offered to parents whose child has died during an emotional and moving House of Commons debate last week (13 October).

The debate, secured by Antoinette Sandbach MP and fellow Conservative MP Will Quince, coincided with Baby Loss Awareness Week, which seeks to raise awareness of baby loss and promote open discussions for people to talk about their experiences. Baby Loss Awareness Week is supported by a coalition of 25 charities, including Together for Short Lives.

During the debate many MPs recalled their own experiences of baby loss through miscarriage, stillbirth or infant death, with Anotinette Sandbach describing the death of her son as the ‘most devastating’ event that can happen to a parent.

Together for Short Lives briefed MPs ahead of the debate to alert them to the inconsistent and inadequate levels of bereavement support available for bereaved parents across England. The briefing identified several gaps in bereavement support and policy, including:

  • Nearly a fifth of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) and more than two thirds of local authorities do not commission bereavement support.
  • Nearly a quarter of CCGs do not have a lead for children’s palliative care and more than seven in ten do not have a children’s palliative care strategy – which should include bereavement support.
  • The new children’s palliative care funding model being produced by NHS England does not include bereavement care for parents after a baby or child dies.
  • Lack of statutory bereavement leave. Together for Short Lives is supporting Will Quince’s Parental Bereavement Leave (Statutory Entitlement) Bill

Tim Loughton, former Minister for Children and Families, used his speech during the debate to highlight research drawn from Together for Short Lives’ Commissioning Maps of Children’s Palliative Care: “The brief we have received from Together for Short Lives mentions the appalling figures for bereavement support, which we have heard about—that 17% of clinical commissioning groups and 68% of local authorities do not commission bereavement support. This is not something that happens just in a medical environment; it happens when people are at home and maybe coming into contact with other council services, yet it does not happen in two thirds of local authorities.”

Liz McInnes, a shadow foreign minister, reiterated this research and then continued by saying “I am pleased that NHS England is developing the children’s palliative care funding currency. That includes pre-bereavement care before a baby or child dies, ​but it sadly overlooks bereavement care after a baby or child dies, so I hope that amendments will be made to that policy.”

Reacting to the debate, Shaun Walsh, Executive Director of External Relations at Together for Short Lives, said:

“It was heartening to see so many MPs from across the political spectrum in attendance for this moving and powerful debate. We are grateful to all MPs who attended and spoke during this debate – particularly those who shared their own heart-breaking stories of the death of their child. 

The debate covered a lot of different issues which many people find difficult or uncomfortable to talk about in their everyday lives. As Alison McGovern put it so succinctly during the debate “If there is one thing that we can do in the House, it is break taboos”. We hope that this debate will trigger more open and honest conversations about baby loss across the country.

We are also grateful to those MPs who highlighted Together for Short Lives’ research during this debate. We will continue to work with parliamentarians, commissioners and our members to make sure that parents whose child dies receive the bereavement support that they need.” 

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