Bereavement support led by senior nurses or doctors ‘gives loved ones closure’

Matron-led service resolved concerns that might otherwise have escalated to formal complaints or legal action

Matron-led service resolved concerns that might otherwise have escalated to formal complaints or legal action

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Hospital bereavement services led by a senior nurse or doctor may help to enable emotional closure for families and prevent complaints following difficult deaths, results of a pilot study suggest.

The research focused on the effects of senior staff-led bereavement services at Medway NHS Foundation Trust in Kent for families of people who died following surgery. It found appointments with specialist doctors or matrons allowed bereaved people to ask questions about their loved ones' clinical care, reducing the likelihood of making a formal complaint or taking legal action.

A chance for families to air worries and ask questions

The study, published in BMJ Supportive and Palliative Care journal, looked at deaths following surgery between May 2017 and January 2018.

Of 121 invitations sent, 18 families – just under 15% – took up the offer for a one-hour, semi-structured meeting at the hospital with the relevant specialist doctor and the matron in charge of the ward where the patient died.

Relatives were encouraged to share their account of events, and seek answers to specific concerns.

Notes, including agreed actions, were taken and sent to relatives within a week of the meeting. Families were updated on any further investigations and their feedback was relayed to all staff involved.

Discussion about quality of care

Most of these families had questions about the clinical care given to their relative, while more than three quarters had questions about the quality of care given. 

Analysis showed:

  • Almost half of families would have made a formal complaint had they not been able to get answers to their questions
  • Two families had already sought legal advice, but neither pursued cases against the trust
  • Most of those who used the service said they had obtained 'closure'.

The study authors said: 'It is our view that families should not have to litigate or complain to get answers or raise concerns following the death of a loved one. They should have a right to access this through the hospital services.'

They added further research would be needed to establish whether such a service would reduce the cost to the NHS of complaints and litigation, if adopted nationwide.

Further information

Read the research

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