Gemma Sayer, a bereavement support midwife at Airedale General Hospital in West Yorkshire, has won the Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care from Sands, the UK’s leading pregnancy and baby loss charity.
The UK Award is in recognition of her excellent work caring for parents and other family members following a pregnancy loss or the death of a baby.
It was presented to Gemma at an event in London on 9 November by Sands’ Chief Executive Clea Harmer and Chief Midwifery Officer for England Kate Brintworth.
Gemma was nominated for the award by Sarah Weatherly whose baby Rory died in 2020. Gemma supported the family with their move to the bereavement suite, so they could spend time and make memories with Rory.
Sarah Weatherly said: “I first met Gemma twenty-four hours after my son Rory was stillborn. I can still remember the other midwives saying, ‘Gemma’s in tomorrow, she’s part of the bereavement team, she’s amazing, she will look after you’.
“Gemma went above and beyond. Although she was always professional, it felt like over those few days she had become a close friend. This helped, knowing we were leaving Rory with her, and I still say now, ‘we left Rory with Gemma’.”
Gemma Sayer said: “One year after qualifying as a midwife, I looked after my first bereaved family and I just knew that that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to continue to look after these families.
“It’s sad that I’m having to do this job, but I just feel so privileged to be in their lives, to give them that support, and feel like I’ve made a difference. The care I provide is always personalised to the family. You have to do it right to be able to carry on supporting families, for them to trust you, to be the one that they go to.”
The Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care aims to recognise the vital work done by midwives, nurses, and other health professionals to care for parents affected by pregnancy loss or the death of their baby.1
Elaine Thorp was a midwife who personified good bereavement care and a true pioneer in listening to bereaved parents. Elaine first became aware of the need for better bereavement care in the late 1970s and became involved with Sands in 1991 when she took on the role of Bereavement Officer at Birmingham Women’s Hospital. Elaine retired from the NHS in 2007 and sadly died in 2013, but those with whom she worked and volunteered remember her with great affection.2
Sands’ Chief Executive Clea Harmer said: “All the Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care nominations were submitted by bereaved parents and family members, giving them an important opportunity to thank the health care professionals who cared for them and their babies. I hope this Award will shine a light on the difference that so many health care workers are making for bereaved parents every day.
“Caring well for someone who has just been told their baby has died takes a unique combination of communication, compassion, patience, and really listening to what parents’ needs and wishes are. By holding that space and striving to truly understand their needs at this moment of overwhelming grief and shock, health care professionals can make a positive difference to bereaved parents and families.
“We received more than one hundred nominations for the Elaine Thorp Award but Gemma truly stood out through her dedication to helping all those parents she cares for begin to rebuild their lives, and ensuring their baby’s memory is at the heart of everything she does. Good care can’t take away the pain of the death of a baby but can help parents through this devastating time.”
Since Sands was founded in 1978, a key aim of the charity has been to work collaboratively with health professionals to improve bereavement care for parents affected by pregnancy or baby loss.
As part of the charity’s work to improve bereavement care and support, Sands leads the government backed National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP), in collaboration with bereaved families, other charities and Royal Colleges. The Pathway is improving the quality and consistency of bereavement care received by parents from the NHS by giving health care professionals frameworks, tools and educational resources.3
Kate Brintworth, Chief Midwifery Officer for England, said: “The Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care is important because it gives health care workers the opportunity to be seen, heard, and thanked for the work they do by the very people they have cared for.
“It is vital that people affected by pregnancy loss or the death of a baby have access to good quality bereavement care. I know it will mean so much to the winner and all who were nominated to know that bereaved parents and families value their work and recognise them as people who truly care.”
All NHS Trusts in England have either expressed interest or formally committed to implementing the National Bereavement Care Pathway (NBCP) within their hospitals and services. The Scottish Government has made the Pathway mandatory for health boards in Scotland, and progress is being made to roll it out in Wales and Northern Ireland .
Nominations for the 2024 Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care are now open. Bereaved parents and other family members can nominate any health care professional who was involved in their care or the care of someone they know, following pregnancy loss or the death of a baby.
Image: Gemma Sayer, winner of Elaine Thorp Award for Bereavement Care, with Kate Brintworth, Chief Midwifery Officer for England. Photography by Karla Gowlett
Sands is here to support anyone affected by pregnancy or baby loss, for as long as they need this. Find out more about all the ways the charity offers bereavement support.