WOMEN suffering the grief of miscarriage will be given online advice instead of face-to-face counselling under radical plans being developed by the government.
Thousands of Scottish women looking for help with coping with the distress of losing their baby would be referred to a national website under the scheme. The move is being examined by a group of experts, funded by the Scottish Government, following a successful trial in north-east Scotland.
Researchers found that women referred to a specially designed website following the loss of their pregnancy were less anxious and depressed afterwards than those who were not.
The website contains information on the physical and emotional side of miscarriage, getting pregnant again, expert advice, a forum and further contact details.
Funded by the Chief Scientist’s Office, the £18,000 research project involved almost 50 women from Aberdeen and Elgin who had lost a baby up to 24 weeks of pregnancy. Now a larger study will be carried out on more women to see if the results are similarly positive and, if so, the website will be made available for women across Scotland.
Around 6,000 Scottish women suffer a miscarriage every year, which occurs in about one in five pregnancies, before 24 weeks. Most occur in the first 12 weeks.
Many women and their partners suffer emotional distress following the tragedy, which can carry on for months or years. But face-to-face counselling is patchy across the country, and the scheme is aimed at providing help at a cheaper cost than setting up more support services.
Dr Susan Klein, director of the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research at Robert Gordon University, said many of the patients found the website “helpful and reassuring”.
They were also significantly less anxious and depressed three months later than those who did not have access to the site, her studies showed.
Klein added: “Women who suffer a miscarriage report a lack of support once they are out of the hospital door. There’s nothing stopping women from seeing a doctor or nurse if they need to, but there’s no dedicated service available.
“Healthcare professionals are under pressure and don’t have a great deal of time to spend. This is not a criticism, but something needs to be done to try to remedy the dissatisfaction that seems to be reported.
“For women who are having difficulty coping, it tends to get dismissed. Yet women feel a sense of attachment to their pregnancy. Apart from those who warrant the help of a mental health professional, a significant number report difficulties coming to terms with their loss, so we want to provide a low-level intervention which could be rolled out on a large scale at a low cost.
“The NHS is under pressure financially, so there’s no point coming up with an expensive intervention that is never going to be implemented. That’s how the website came to be developed.”
Professor Grant Cumming, a consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist at Dr Gray’s Hospital Elgin, said the move could help many women: “Miscarriage is so common and a lot of women do suffer anxiety and depression afterwards, affecting their relationship and even their job.
“The question is how do we help all of these people as one-to-one counselling is too expensive.”
But the move has been met with concern by Scotland’s only existing counselling service, which believes more money should be invested in helping women face-to-face.
Maureen Sharkey, of Scottish Care and Information on Miscarriage, said: “Women need to know that there is proper specialised support there for them, when they need it. Forums provide a space for women to exchange views, they do not offer counselling support or offer responses by qualified counsellors.
“Women need to be encouraged to use counselling services instead of just struggling on with it themselves and becoming extremely depressed. SCIM was set up to offer this kind of support, that’s why we exist.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We welcome this report and will consider the research findings.”