Having a baby in neonatal care often has a significant psychological impact on families. It is human instinct for parents to seek closeness with their baby and having to rely on health professionals to help care for them can leave parents feeling vulnerable, frustrated or angry. For some parents it may feel hard to trust the clinical team, especially when difficult decisions have to be made about treatment, or when things don’t go to plan.
The events that led to the conviction of Lucy Letby for causing the death of and harm to babies on a neonatal unit are hard for any of us to make sense of. They may cause significant anxiety for those parents whose baby is currently in neonatal care. They may also raise questions or anxieties for those whose baby has received neonatal care in the past, especially if their baby died on a unit. These feelings are to be expected, and families may require additional support to navigate the complex array of feelings that arise. Parents will need advice and support about who to talk to if they have concerns bearing in mind that they may not wish to approach those directly involved in their baby’s care.
A conviction of this kind is also likely to raise the anxiety of the professionals working in neonatal care. The trust between parents and the clinical team is vital to their work, and there may be an understandable fear of being associated with this case in some way, or having had their professional reputation or identity undermined. It is natural when these anxieties come up to feel defensive, or to dismiss the fears of others. Unfortunately, this is likely to increase anxiety and disconnection between families and the clinical team. Staff may benefit from support to navigate these very complex and emotionally laden conversations with families and with each other as a team. It also places a significant burden on service leads to hold and respond helpfully to the emotion of both staff and families in relation to this case.
Relationships are at the heart of neonatal care. As with all of the challenges that neonatal families and staff face, there is power in connection and community. We encourage all of the staff and families on units currently to work together openly to address the feelings that arise on their units as a result of this verdict. We would also encourage the wider systems supporting families to consider how to check in with or respond to families who may have had a neonatal stay in the past. We would also encourage you to reach out to the psychological professionals in your network to help to support you in having those conversations with families and with your teams as you find ways to make sense of what has happened and to navigate what comes next.
If you have been affected by the death of a baby, you may find the following site helpful: www.sands.org.uk
Parents and families of premature or sick babies, may wish to visit www.bliss.org.uk