NHS publishes guidance to help trusts learn from deaths

The NHS is today publishing guidance to help trusts work with bereaved families and carers.

Over 70 families and carers worked with NHS England on the guidance which will provide advice to hospitals, mental health and community trusts on how to involve families following the death of a loved one.

This follows a Care Quality Commission (CQC) report which said families’ experiences and insights are a valuable source of learning; and that families and carers should be treated as equal partners to identify opportunities for improvement.

Professor Jane Cummings, chief nursing officer for England and executive director at NHS England says: “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 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 NHS has listened to families and their comments have helped shape this guidance through listening events, social media, webcasts and monthly email updates.

Speaking on behalf of all the families on the learning from deaths steering group, 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. This has been recognised by the Learning from Deaths Programme Board.

“We welcome the commitment by the relevant organisations to consider these issues in the course of their planned activities, in particular the implementation of the Duty of Candour, the quality of investigations and the factors involved in determining if an investigation is the appropriate course of action, the effectiveness of organisational systems when families seek to address their concerns and an assessment of whether and how historical cases might be considered.”

The new guidance sets out different stages following a death and calls on trusts to involve families throughout by providing bereavement support, signposting families to advice and advocacy support along with examples of how trusts are working with families and good practice guidance 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 on this. We encourage trusts to draw on this guidance to assess how they could further improve how they care for and involve bereaved families.”

This guidance is only one part of the Learning from Deaths programme and complements other guidance developed as part of the broader programme being led by the National Quality Board. It also links to supporting ‘Information for families’ which trusts should share with families following bereavement as a supplement to the trust’s own information and resources to support for families.