When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the UK in March 2020, the world as we knew it changed. Neonatal families were hit particularly hard and, with no warning, our entire way of working became untenable-just as our families became more and more vulnerable.
Families who were receiving neonatal care proved increasingly difficult to reach, with our peer support teams unable to be on the unit. We knew that visiting restrictions would be particularly difficult for this group.
We also care for families in the community, some of whom were suddenly told that they must isolate for three months. As core parts of the Leo’s team were shielding, or chose to shield, we were in a unique position to understand the needs of these families first-hand, as we were living it day, in day out with them.
We felt their anger, their frustration, their highs and lows, their sleep insomnia patterns. We knew from past experiences of shielding against RSV and Flu that the impact on these families would be huge.
Leo’s needed to act quickly…
We would now need to support families remotely and in ways we never had anticipated. We could not reach them in the same way we had before, by seeing them on the units or by meeting them at community groups after discharge.
Our counsellor could no longer see families face to face. Everything had to change, and fast.
Within the space of two weeks, we had managed to adapt everything but our main community groups to online provision.
We communicated regularly with our families to ensure they had the support they needed, seeking feedback through regular check ins, via Survey Monkey and our Facebook group to ensure we could provide adapted support as and when they needed it. We provided letters to the unit for parents which outlined the work we did and how they could access support.
We began to build a picture of the potential ongoing impact of separation due to restricted visiting, of isolation and anxiety related to the pandemic.
Parents presented to us with much more severe mental health issues than we have previously dealt with, requiring us to be in touch with Access teams, Perinatal Mental Health teams and GPs as we tried to help parents with suicidal ideation. Parents have been very open about how much the pandemic has been affecting them and the increase in demand for our current services is an indicator that the fall out would be more than our previous capacity could cope with.
We have really seen the increased adverse effects on mental health of the lockdown restrictions, it has hit families hard. Mums having to cope on their own at the bedside for weeks on end and families returning home that have struggled with the isolation and decreased education/support they received in hospital. We have put measures in to try to mitigate these awful consequences for families but there is still a lot of concern around our families both on the unit and going home. An additional resource to support them is fantastic news and much needed across the UK.”
Dr Liz McKechie, Consultant Neonatologist, Leeds General Infirmary.
As of July 20th Leo’s will become a service which requires families to be referred in.
Families can refer themselves, or professionals such as midwives, health visitors, neonatal nurses, GPs, portage, social workers etc can also refer in to our services.
This will allow our team to monitor the family and their changing needs through the neonatal stay and / or in the community.
We will become an information sharing organisation. This means we can work with other teams within local services including the NHS and Local Authority to provide joined up care, and support in new ways.
We are also creating an internal multi-disciplinary team with all of our providers. This will allow us to work in sync with each other, and ensure families are receiving all the care they can from Leo’s.
As a direct result of COVID-19 and the subsequent restrictions imposed on many neonatal units, including parental access, some babies and their parents have been separated for prolonged periods of time. Combined with the additional barrier of wearing face masks and reduced positive touch, we can only imagine what the short- and long-term impact on parents and babies will be. Parents are not visitors, but an essential part of the care team, and as such must be included in the daily care of their baby. The support which Leo’s provides is vital for the wellbeing of parents, the wider family and healthcare professionals”
Alex Mancini, Pan London Neonatal Palliative Care Lead, Author Neonatal Palliative Care for Nurses, Leo’s Trustee
Located in the referral section are two forms. A form for families who require help and are currently receiving neonatal care, and a form for those in the community who have been discharged from their neonatal unit and require help.
Our forms are slightly different, as we need additional information for families based in the community.
We can currently support families who have had children who have been admitted to a neonatal unit and have since been discharged until their 6th birthday.
All families or professionals need to do is send a referral form and we’ll do the rest!
If you are a family who has experienced neonatal loss, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Thanks to funding from The National Lottery, Tees Valley Community Foundation, Comic Relief & Durham Community Foundation we are able to offer a tailored COVID-response project for neonatal mental health. This project will encompass the entire family unit.
The services included within this COVID-19 response project will be available as provision in addition of our standard services for a period of six months
Additional services coming on-board as part of our new project funding include:
- NBO (Newborn Behavioural Observations)
- Counselling with a trauma specialist
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing)
- Child counselling (high intensity and low intensity)
- Nurture and attunement
- 1:1 Occupational Therapy
If you need support, or would like to refer a family in for support, please click on the ‘make a referral’ button on the homepage.