Derry’s new bereavement suite provides ‘space for parents to say goodbye’

The new Lavender Suite at Altnagelvin.
The new Lavender Suite at Altnagelvin.

A new bereavement suite for parents who receive devastating news that their baby has died, has been officially opened in Altnagelvin Hospital.

Representatives from the Sands (stillbirth and neo-natal death) UK charity, joined local bereaved parents and staff from the Western Trust for the official opening of the Lavender Suite on Friday.

Pictured at the official opening of the Lavender Suite at Altnagelvin Hospital from L-R: Melissa Crockett; Childbirth and Pregnancy Loss Bereavement Midwife, Carole McKeeman; Trust Bereavement Coordinator, Jim Moohan; Clinical Lead, Tommy Ferguson; Chair of Sands NI, Maureen Miller; Head of Midwifery Services, Steven Guy; Network Coordinator, Sands NI, Dr Clea Harmer; Chief Executive Sands UK and Kieran Downey, Director of Women and Childrens Services.

Pictured at the official opening of the Lavender Suite at Altnagelvin Hospital from L-R: Melissa Crockett; Childbirth and Pregnancy Loss Bereavement Midwife, Carole McKeeman; Trust Bereavement Coordinator, Jim Moohan; Clinical Lead, Tommy Ferguson; Chair of Sands NI, Maureen Miller; Head of Midwifery Services, Steven Guy; Network Coordinator, Sands NI, Dr Clea Harmer; Chief Executive Sands UK and Kieran Downey, Director of Women and Childrens Services.

Dr. Clea Harmer, Chief Executive of Sands UK, described the new facility as “fantastic.”

After paying tribute to the partnership work involved in the project, Dr Harmer said: “The death of a baby is devastating and nothing, nothing can take away from that grief and that pain.

“But we know that good bereavement care can make it possible to manage that pain and that grief better and we know that poor bereavement care exacerbates it and makes it much, much worse.

“One of the cornerstones of bereavement care is providing that space for parents to have time to create those memories; time to say goodbye; time to just be with their baby.

The entrance to the newly opened Lavender Suite in Ward 45, Altnagelvin Hospital.

The entrance to the newly opened Lavender Suite in Ward 45, Altnagelvin Hospital.

“A bereavement suite allows parents to do that and a bereavement suite as beautiful as this makes one of the darkest moments for parents something that they can form memories out of and they can find that strength to move on.”

Dr. Harmer said she could not stress enough how important it was for all hospitals to have such a facility.

“Hospitals like this are a beacon for others to show what can be done; what should be done if we are doing the right thing for bereaved parents and holding them at that time when they really, really need to be held.”

She said that today, in too many hospitals, newly bereaved families could hear other families celebrating with their babies and could hear those other babies crying, adding that bereavement facilities should not be a postcode lottery.

Steven Guy, Network Co-ordinator of Sands NI, who lost a baby daughter, Danielle, lit a candle during the opening “to represent all the babies twho had died and the babies who, sadly, would die.”

After visiting the first Bereavement Suite at Dundonald, Mr. Guy put the idea to the Sands NI Steering Committee in Northern Ireland about trying to get similar facilities in all hospitals and said that Altnagelvin was very keen to develop a partnership.

He said the Lavender Suite “will serve a wide catchment area in the North West.

“It will enhance the already excellent care given to bereaved parents here in Altnagelvin. It will help make the parents’ experience just that little bit more bearable.”

Kieran Downey, Western Trust director of Women’s and Children’s Services, paid tribute to Trust staff and the Sands organisation and its volunteers. He added: “I’m astounded that our bereaved parents, who have suffered such a traumatic experience, that literally within weeks they are out fundraising, organising cake sales, doing things, to make sure the experience for other bereaved parents won’t be like the experience maybe that they had or that they can have a better experience than they had.”

There were 76 babies who were stillborn in Northern Ireland in 2015. A further 102 babies died neo-natally, including 93 early neo natal deaths (within the first seven days of life).

The Sands Northern Ireland Network funded the new Lavender Suite Project at Altnagelvin and worked in partnership with the Western Health and Social Care Trust to bring it into being.

Both organisations met with local parents who helped choose the colour scheme and name the room.