Consultant-led bereavement service helps avert legal action

  • Dawn O'Shea
  • UK Professional News
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Hospital bereavement services that are led by senior doctors, nurses and quality and safety personnel may help to curb patient complaints and legal action in the wake of a difficult death, suggest the results of a pilot study carried out at Medway Foundation Trust.

Following the death of a patient, the trust contacted the next of kind on the following working day and invited them to a one-hour semi-structured meeting at the hospital with a consultant, senior sister and a member of the governance team. The aim was to answer clinical questions and address concerns over the quality of care.

Of 121 invitations sent out, 18 families (14.8%) used the service. Two families had already sought legal advice. Neither acted further. Forty-four per cent said they would have made a complaint if the service had not been available. Seventy-eight per cent stated that they had obtained closure through the service.

Presenting the findings in BMJ Supportive & Palliative Care, the researchers said their “experience of running the service is that a service such as this needs to be consultant led.”

The families that returned to use the service tended to be those where the diagnosis or treatment and decision-making had been difficult. These families often requested and wished to speak to a consultant.

“Explaining exactly what was found on a CT scan, the details of the problems encountered during a tricky operation, the timing of investigations or whether a loved-one would still have died if they had attended hospital earlier, need a high level of specialist expertise,” the authors said.

“Further research is required to elucidate whether such a service, if rolled out nationally, would reduce the costs on the NHS from complaints and litigation,” they added.