Donna Ockenden's blog October 2018

Last week buildings across the UK were lit up pink and blue and people wearing pin badges of the same colour. This was to mark a very special occasion – Baby Loss Awareness Week 2018.

The loss of a baby is heart breaking and life changing for bereaved parents and their families. It’s also hugely upsetting for the midwives and wider maternity team involved.

I’ve visited many maternity units across the UK and have seen and heard first-hand how midwives and the wider team care for people during these very sensitive situations. During this period, it’s critical that bereaved parents and families have access to all the support they need, for as long as they need it.

Providing care for bereaved mothers and families

I recently visited the University Hospital of Wales (Cardiff and Vale University Health Board) to meet midwives and the wider maternity team. I was interested to see how the midwives there had adapted their bereavement care provision to ensure that high risk or very ill mothers could still utilise a bereavement area and thus be able to have their baby remain with them, if this is what they wished.

Together with Cardiff and Newport Sands, they have developed a second high risk bereavement suite for mothers who need closer monitoring or further care. I was able to visit the suite, which although a part of the main labour ward provides a safe, quiet and kind space for newly bereaved parents. The suite was created with the support and feedback of those affected by bereavement and I found the visit there a very moving and humbling experience.

Examples of good practice

During my time in Cardiff I saw many other excellent examples of good practice and it became very clear to me how supported newly qualified midwives (NQMs) are. The unit has created a unique ‘preceptorship programme’ that incorporates a wide range of supportive measures to help NQMs in their first year of practice. This includes the creative use of technology such as a WhatsApp group for the NQM team, where advice and support can be accessed 24 hours a day.

Another excellent idea is the use of a bright pink badge worn by new midwives or ‘preceptees.’ The badge, which is perfectly themed with a picture of a stork, shows the rest of the team that the midwife wearing it is a ‘new arrival’ to the midwifery profession and may need a little extra support.

Alongside this the team use a similarly themed pink magnet, which is placed on the labour ward board to show that this mother is being cared for by a NQM. It was lovely to hear that at the end of the year the badges are symbolically handed over to the next NQM. The previous badge holder then becomes a ‘buddy’ for the new ‘NQM’ throughout their first year.

I also learnt how Cardiff and Vale are supporting student midwives, while focussing on ways to grow their own work force.

In partnership with universities, they have implemented a scheme to help student midwives familiarise themselves with their future employer during their final student placements. By carrying out their last student placements in their future place of work, students are more likely to feel confident in their early days as a NQM and therefore succeed in their first year. It seems all of their supportive measures have been a huge success - a recent survey showed that 100 percent of newly qualified midwives working within Cardiff and Vale felt supported.

The unit was also keen to show me the new system they’ve put in place to reduce surgical site infections (SSI) after Caesarean section.

They have been working alongside Public Health Wales to explore standardisation of all procedures within theatres and in a mother’s pre and post-operative journey. This has been a huge success for the unit and they now have the lowest rate of surgical site infection across the whole of Wales.

The maternity team at University Hospital Wales are constantly looking at ways they can further improve the care they provide to mothers and families and have set up a ‘birth after thought service’.

They’re engaging proactively with mothers and listening to feedback from them about the care they received. The team have met with 130 mothers in just over a year and used the feedback gained to make a number of changes to the support they offer to mothers in early labour and to the maternity ward environment.

This proactive engagement with women has been expanded to Facebook, where they held a ‘Facebook Live’ event with mothers and families. The learning has been shared with neighbouring maternity providers allowing them to make similar improvements to the care they provide.

I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Cardiff and Vale and was so impressed with their attitude, not only towards improving the care they provide to new parents and families, but also how they support NQMs. I was made to feel  very welcome throughout my visit and I look forward to returning in the future.

I will next be visiting Wales in spring 2019 where I’ll meet with midwives and the maternity team in Powys.

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