Bereaved parents experiences of stillbirth in UK hospitals: qualitative interview study

Downe, Soo orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-2848-2550, Schmidt, Ellie, Kingdon, Carol orcid iconORCID: 0000-0002-5958-9257 and Heazell, Alexander (2013) Bereaved parents experiences of stillbirth in UK hospitals: qualitative interview study. British Medical Journal (BMJ), 2013 (3). pp. 1-11. ISSN 0959-8138

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Objective To obtain the views of bereaved parents about their interactions with health care staff when their baby died just before, or during, labour.

Design Qualitative in-depth interview study, following an earlier national survey. All interviews took place during 2011, either face-to-face, or on the telephone. Data analysis was informed by the constant comparative technique from grounded theory.

Setting Every National Health Service (NHS) region in the United Kingdom was represented.

Participants Bereaved parents who had completed an e-questionnaire, via the website of Sands (Stillbirth And Neonatal Death Society). Of the 304 survey respondents who gave provisional consent, 29 families were approached to take part, based on maximum variation sampling and data saturation.

Results 22 families (n=25) participated. Births took place between 2002 and 2010. Specific practices were identified that were particularly helpful to parents. Respondents talked about their interactions with hospital staff as having profound effects on their capacity to cope, both during labour, and in the longer term. The data generated three key themes: ‘enduring and multiple loss’: ‘making irretrievable moments precious’; and the ‘best care possible to the worst imaginable.’ The overall synthesis of findings is encapsulated in the meta-theme ‘One chance to get it right.’ This pertains to the parents and family themselves, clinical and support staff who care for them directly, and the NHS organisations that indirectly provide the resources and governance procedures that may (or may not) foster a caring ethos.

Conclusion Positive memories and outcomes following stillbirth depend as much on genuinely caring staff attitudes and behaviours as on high quality clinical procedures. All staff who encounter parents in this situation need to see each meeting as their one chance to get it right.

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