NHS urged to revise parent advice after Mortonhall

Kezia Dugdale says guidance to parents should be updated in the wake of the Mortonhall scandal. Picture: Greg Macvean
Kezia Dugdale says guidance to parents should be updated in the wake of the Mortonhall scandal. Picture: Greg Macvean
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An urgent revision of advice given to bereaved parents by NHS staff was called for yesterday in the wake of the Mortonhall ashes scandal.

Dame Elish Angiolini’s report this week found parents who had lost a child were often given wrong information and she proposed mandatory training for midwives on handling similar tragic situations.

But Lothian Labour MSP Kezia Dugdale said the advice given by hospital staff to grieving parents should be updated without delay. She said: “We know what the guidance should be and we should get on and make sure it’s up to date.”

Public Health Minister Michael Matheson told MSPs earlier this week the Scottish Government was ready to act to ensure NHS staff had the right skills, knowledge and support to advise parents – once it received Lord Bonomy’s report on infant cremation later this month.

But Ms Dugdale said: “It doesn’t require a change in the law so why does it have to wait for Lord Bonomy’s commission to report?”

Dame Elish’s report followed the Evening News revelation 18 months ago that for decades parents whose babies had been stillborn or died soon after birth had been told there would be no ashes after a cremation, while in fact the remains were buried anonymously within the grounds at Mortonhall.

The report said it had been “received wisdom” among midwives and others that infant cremations did not result in any ashes.

And although there were leaflets pointing out some crematoria – Seafield and Warriston – could retrieve infant ashes, Dame Elish said this information was rarely passed on verbally to grieving families.

She also said parents often felt they had been rushed into making decisions about burial or cremation arrangements while official guidance said they should be given up to 28 days to consider the options.

Ms Dugdale said: “So far most of the discussion has focused on practices in crematoria, but there are other parts of the report which have major consequences for the NHS and the advice parents are given from hospital staff in the minutes and hours after a baby dies. In some ways that’s the most important time to ensure they get the correct information. Parents were being told there was no such thing as ashes from a baby’s cremation and were making decisions on that basis. They might have made different decisions if they had known what we now know to be the truth. It’s up to the Scottish Government to say to NHS boards they must update their advice and guidance.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it planned to issue advice shortly to NHS boards to ensure they were considering the Mortonhall findings, with a view to updating policies and practices.

“The Infant Cremation Commission has been examining practice across the NHS and it is important that any further government guidance takes full account of evidence from across the country, not just in relation to practice in Edinburgh. Once Lord Bonomy has made his recommendations to the Scottish Government, we will be taking these forward as a matter of urgency.”

Fiona Mitchell, NHS Lothian general manager of women’s and children’s services, said: “We are currently considering the report as a whole and taking urgent action to implement the recommendations.”