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Anger as midwives have to fund own trauma therapy

By Lisa Smyth

Published 17/10/2016

UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson
UUP’s Jo-Anne Dobson

Midwives traumatised by caring for parents who lose their babies are paying for their own counselling, it has been claimed.

It has also emerged that midwives in Northern Ireland only receive one hour of preparing for bereavement during their three years of training.

According to official figures, there were 76 stillbirths here in 2015, while one in four pregnancies end in miscarriage.

However, in response to a question from UUP MLA Jo-Anne Dobson, the Health Minister has revealed there is only two bereavement midwives in Northern Ireland - in the South Eastern and Belfast trusts.

Mrs Dobson said some distressed midwives have had to fund their own trauma therapy.

"It is a sad reflection that there are midwives out there who are paying for their own counselling," she said.

"Midwives need adequate training and support on how to deal with the very sad situation when a baby dies.

"We are failing the parents and we're failing midwives, who are caring professionals."

Some midwives have approached Sands NI, a stillbirth and neonatal death charity, for help.

Steve Guy, the regional coordinator from the charity, said: "We would like to see a bereavement midwife in every maternity unit in Northern Ireland.

"The role of the bereavement midwife is not only to look after the patients, but also to look after the staff.

"We do get calls from time to time from midwives who want to talk through an experience, and they always feel like they didn't do enough.

"Even when they talk through their story, and they have ticked every box as far as we are concerned about the level of care they provided, they still feel as though they didn't do enough.

"They are trained to bring life into the world and it is particularly difficult because one minute they could be looking after bereaved parents and then walking across the corridor the next minute to look after a live baby. I have the highest regard for the job that midwives do, they do the hardest job in the world, and that is why they need more support."

Mr Guy said the charity is working with universities here to increase the length of bereavement training provided to trainee midwives.

He also said it is vital that bereaved parents receive the best support possible.

"Everything that the parents experience during that time is crucial," said Mr Guy, whose daughter, Danielle, was stillborn at 38 weeks 23 years ago.

"I know Danielle was 7lbs 9oz, that she was born at 10.40am, but ask me about my other children and I have trouble remembering their birthdays sometimes," he explained.

Meanwhile, Ms Dobson said she was horrified to hear of the lack of services available to both parents and midwives.

She urged the Health Minister to act to address the situation.

"It is the case that the focus is always on a healthy birth, rather than considering the support, care and counsel required for parents after a stillbirth or neonatal death," she said.

"Parents are being let down at a tragic moment in their lives when they are at their most vulnerable."

Health Minister Michelle O'Neill said she recognises the role of the bereavement midwife as a "significant asset".

She said: "All trusts have bereavement co-ordinators who work within trusts to develop bereavement care, standards and training for all types of bereavement, including miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.

"Midwives undergo bereavement training on how to support and care for grieving parents."

  • Sands NI can be contacted on 07740993450 or 028 3839 2509

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