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Becoming a Neonatal Families Ambassador

17th June 2021

In support of the iHV Insights on Supporting families who have had a baby on a neonatal unit (being held today), a Voices Blog by Alison Rutherford Family Nurse Practitioner and CONI co-ordinator for Gateshead 0-19 Service: Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust on her experience of becoming a Neonatal Families Ambassador.

Alison Rutherford Family Nurse Practitioner and CONI co-ordinator for Gateshead 0-19 Service: Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust

In October 2020 I was delighted to take part in the Surviving to Thriving online training offered by the Institute of Health Visiting. This was developed to improve understandings about the experiences of families who have premature or poorly babies requiring specialist intensive care. It also aimed to highlight the importance of offering individualised packages of care and timely support. The training was driven by the goal of enabling practitioners to become a “catalyst that takes a surviving baby to a thriving baby”.

As a passionate Family Nurse Practitioner and CONI co-ordinator for the 0-19 Health Service in Gateshead Tyne and Wear, I felt ideally placed to acquire the role of Neonatal Ambassador. This new role seeks to become the voice and advocate for families, to facilitate awareness sessions and cascade the learning to team members in order to strengthen a pathway of care to foster a closer working partnership between neonatal units and primary care.

My journey began by attending two online training sessions and completing private study, in order to improve my knowledge about local and national needs. This helped me to become more confident in being able to signpost others towards local support services and charities. Consideration embedded in the training highlighted common issues and worries frequently raised by parents, such as how scary it is being transferred home, feeding concerns, and anxieties surrounding the growth and development of the baby. Importantly, the training focused on the psychological needs of families and the impact of the emotional stressors which are naturally triggered by the traumatic experience.

Once I had completed all of the training, I made contact with our local neonatal units and managers within the Trust to inform them about the training which was due to be rolled out. I planned training dates, advertised the sessions, prepared the resources and protected the time. I was keen to make progress quickly, acknowledging the challenge, as the only Neonatal Families Ambassador for Gateshead. The awareness session needed to be delivered to our team of Health Visitors, Locality Managers and our Service Manager; a total of around 45 practitioners!

The restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic naturally meant that all of the sessions were delivered virtually. It is fair to say I experienced some challenges associated with the IT systems and needed to draw on the expertise of my colleagues. In total, I provided 4 awareness sessions to reach our wide audience. Despite some technical hitches, the training was very well received by our brilliant team of Health Visitors. They found the video clip particularly powerful. I gathered lots of very positive feedback from the evaluation sheets. Some of their comments included:

I will be more aware of the importance of asking the parents what support they feel they need and how often, so it is tailored to each individual client family”

“It was very interesting and useful to hear a parent’s story in the video; what they found difficult also what they found to be important factors in provision of a holistic approach”.

The statistics indicate that around 60,000 babies are born preterm in the UK every year. This means that 1 in every 13 babies born will arrive before 37 weeks. It is therefore crucial we adapt our approach to ensure the experience reported by families is one driven by compassion, that our approach is trauma informed, that intervention is well timed, and it meets their unique needs in order to improve positive outcomes for these vulnerable clients.

Alison Rutherford Family Nurse Practitioner and CONI co-ordinator for Gateshead 0-19 Service: Harrogate and District NHS Foundation Trust