Where are you based? The neonatal unit, St George’s Hospital, Blackshaw Road, Tooting, London SW17 0QT
Which neonatal unit/units do you support? The ITU, HDU and Special Care nurseries at St George’s Hospital in south west London.
Tell us about the work you do…. First Touch raises funds for vital medical equipment, specialist nurse training and for family welfare schemes. Family welfare includes providing welcome bags when families arrive, a journey box for families to put keepsakes in during their baby’s time at the NNU, ensuring a constant supply of tea, coffee, soft drinks and snacks in the Family Rooms, funding memory boxes and the annual memorial service to support bereaved families and providing a garden in the hospital so families can sit outside and take time out.
Why do you feel parental mental health so important? Our families are ‘robbed’ of the birth experience they hoped for and have a very early and/or poorly baby in hospital. Routines are disrupted, families can be temporarily split up, and families are thrown into a situation they never wanted to be in. It is very easy for parental physical and mental health to be neglected as the baby becomes the focus.
Why do you feel staff mental health is so important? The neonatal staff work above and beyond to care for their patients. They get attached to the babies and their families. The nature of their job and the result of constant direct contact with families, often over many months, has an effect on their mental health and their ability to do their job. At First Touch we try to do little things to make staff feel appreciated, such as funding lunches and dinners, and providing drinks and snacks. We are looking at a way of funding one of the counsellors to attend a course in Mindfulness, to enable her to run sessions for staff and families at the NNU.
How does your work benefit mental health in the NICU?
I don’t think we separate ‘mental health’ as an individual and unique issue but try to see each person holistically.
In 2011 First Touch started to fund a Family Centred Care Coordinator, a new and innovative role at the NNU. There can be a sense that families do not like to ‘bother’ the nurses or doctors assigned to their babies, as the medical staff are there to care for babies and not families. The Family Centred Care Coordinator was at the NNU to help families with concerns about breastfeeding, to help with parking permits, to help to facilitate kangaroo care cuddles, to provide accommodation where needed, and to provide a non-clinical listening ear. She works closely with the NNU’s counsellors, acting as a conduit. The role proved so invaluable that St George’s Trust began to employ and pay the Family Centred Care Coordinator’s salary from April 2018, recognising the huge importance of supporting families through a very stressful and difficult time.
When we provide drinks and snacks, we are trying to take a bit of stress away from families. If it means that a dad can get a coffee, a breastfeeding mum can get a decaf tea or squash, and a sibling can access some fruit or breakfast bars without having to leave the NNU or spend additional money, we hope this helps them.
We also know that physical well-being and mental well-being are closely connected. The healing powers of nature and natural light are well documented, so we have provided a small hospital garden with seating for parents, staff and visitors.
The NNU has two counsellors available to families. First Touch has funded non-hospital furniture for the counselling room, to make the room feel more homely for families. These small adjustments can make a big differences. We have also purchased a list of helpful books recommended by the counsellors which visitors can access and borrow from the little library in the Quiet Room.
‘Celebrations’ can be difficult and emotional, so we provide gifts on Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day, Christmas Day, Easter, and on World Prematurity Day.
We know that siblings are affected by a premature and/or poorly baby brother or sister, so we are introducing sibling packs for all siblings. These will contain a ‘Big Brother’ or ‘Big Sister’ T-shirt, colouring pencils and paper, a reading book, a wristband and some chocolates.
St George’s is located in Tooting, a vibrant area of London which is both culturally and economically incredibly diverse. We work hard to understand the needs of all the families and staff on the unit and support them in the most appropriate ways.
You can read more about First Touch and the work they do here https://www.first-touch.org.uk/