Organisations come together to launch Sudden Bereavement Charter

This Sudden Bereavement Charter — produced collaboratively — shines a light on the acute and often grave needs of people bereaved unexpectedly. This includes people who have died due to an immediately fatal or suddenly life-limiting condition such as COVID-19, brain haemorrhage, or an event such as an accident, homicide, suicide or other disaster.

This charter is written in recognition that any death of someone we love can be hard to bear, and all bereaved people deserve access to support services. Every bereavement is unique, and every bereavement matters.

An unexpected bereavement causes shock. It often happens in harrowing circumstances, with little or no time to say goodbye. It often causes unexpected immediate practical turmoil with no chance to plan, such as when an income earner or a carer dies.

Most of us never expect it to happen. When it does, we often do not know how to help ourselves, or those around us. From the first day, the many challenges can make it hard to look after our own welfare.

Now, due to the pandemic, sudden deaths have risen to levels equivalent to war time, and are a significant percentage of total deaths. 

A sudden bereavement requires a coordinated response providing a timely pathway to help if needed from day one. Most people benefit immensely from support from those they are close to. But some people are isolated, or need help supporting each other, including children, young people or people with other vulnerability factors. People often need help and advice to cope with their reactions, which can be unfamiliar, scary and extreme. They often need practical help such as medical, financial or social support. They may need information to understand procedures such as repatriation of bodies, post-mortems or criminal investigations. 

Yet, sadly, there is lack of equity in access to care and support. Suddenly bereaved people can feel abandoned and alone. This can increase the risk of poor health outcomes, including depression, heightened anxiety or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder; and can result in poor life outcomes, for example loss of work, family breakdown or even suicide. 

We, the below signatories, believe all suddenly bereaved people have a right to access to immediate, humanitarian care through the worst time of their lives, appropriate to their needs, to mitigate negative impacts on them, society and the economy. This is our charter for change.

People who are suddenly bereaved, whether at home or overseas, have a right to: 

  1. Live in a society that recognises the personal impact of a sudden bereavement and the importance of access to equitable and appropriate support for children and adults bereaved unexpectedly; and whether one, or many, families, friends or colleagues are affected. 
  2. Access, if needed, to support from bereavement specialists with expertise in helping suddenly bereaved people from day one, to safeguard welfare and wellbeing at a time of personal disaster, with such services appropriately resourced and supported by government and other statutory funders.
  3. Access to NHS mental health care as appropriate, including timely assessment of mental health needs, and timely treatment of diagnosed mental health conditions. 
  4. Support with practical needs, such as appropriate time off work and financial support for those who need it most. 
  5. (If a death is being investigated by the police or a criminal charge is being brought) Police ‘Family Liaison Officer’ help, and independent support through the criminal justice system and courts; with bereaved people’s victim status recognised and respected. They should have their voices heard and be kept informed.
  6. If required, specialist help with other legal or other complex issues that may follow a sudden death, such as wills, inquests and claims for compensation, that is timely and equitable.
  7. Be counted. There should be robust government data that records numbers of people who have died unexpectedly, by cause of death, to support informed policy decision making about the scale of sudden bereavement and the resources required to care appropriately for suddenly bereaved people.
  8. Support that is informed by research and evidence that demonstrates the best ways to help people bereaved suddenly,  providing for their immediate welfare needs and to foster wellbeing long term.

The Sudden Bereavement Charter has been signed by:

Sudden is reliant on donations. We are a charity-run service. If you’d like to contribute to our crucial work, particularly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, then please donate to Sudden. Sudden is run and hosted by Brake, the road safety charity.