The death of a loved one is a deeply traumatic experience, especially if it is unexpected, and now the NHS is making strides to better support and engage with families and carers who suffer a bereavement.
This month NHS England published new guidance to help NHS Trusts across the country provide consistent and effective care and support for people going through the emotional turmoil of a bereavement.
It has worked closely with more than 70 families and carers in compiling the new guidance, learning directly from those who have been through the experience. The advice will be available to hospitals, mental health and community trusts, and is designed to involve families following the death of a loved one.
This new approach follows a report from the Care Quality Commission which said families’ experiences and insights are a valuable source of learning. It stressed that families and carers should be treated as equal partners to identify opportunities for improvement. Consequently, the NHS has worked with families through ‘listening events’, social media, webcasts and monthly email updates, then used their comments and advice to shape the new guidance now being shared across England.
Professor Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, said: “My deep gratitude goes to every family member who has contributed in shaping this instrumental guidance. The families involved have shown huge commitment and a desire to help bring about improvements in the way NHS Trusts and families work together.
“Understanding the families’ perspective has helped us highlight some of the key considerations for Trusts when working with families so we can have meaningful engagement and a consistent quality approach across England.”
The new guidance sets out different stages following a death and calls on Trusts to involve families at every stage, providing bereavement support and signposting families to advice and advocacy services and support. It also cites specific cases of how Trusts are working well with families and gives examples of ‘good practice’ on specific subjects.
Dr Kathy McLean, Medical Director at NHS Improvement, said: “Engaging in a meaningful way with bereaved families and carers following a patient’s death should continue to be a priority for NHS Trusts. This guidance provides Trusts with a clear and consistent approach on how this can happen and will support the work that they are already doing. We encourage Trusts to draw on this guidance to assess how they can further improve how they care for and involve bereaved families.”
Speaking on behalf of the families whose help was invaluable in compiling the new guidance, Josephine Ocloo said: “We welcome the publication of the guidance as it provides a platform for Trusts to continue to build effective partnerships with families. However, whilst developing this guidance it was clear to families on the steering group that wider systemic issues exist that can disempower families when things go wrong with their care. We welcome the commitment by the relevant organisations to consider these issues in the course of their planned activities.”
The guidance to NHS Trusts in England is only one part of the ‘Learning from Deaths’ programme and complements other guidance developed as part of the broader approach being led by the National Quality Board. It also links to supporting ‘Information for families’ which Trusts should share with families following bereavement to supplement their own information and resources to support families.