The passion and dedication of neonatal professionals never fails to astonish us, and we’re so delighted when we have the opportunity to share the stories of our hardworking colleagues. Today is the turn of Jen Cuffe and Julie Kearney, colleagues from the Blackpool Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, who are working tirelessly to develop and deliver an innovative new approach to FICare: Neo Natters.
Neo Natters began its life as a parent drop-in session that gave families the opportunity to chat directly with staff about their concerns or questions. According to Julie Kearney, matron at Blackpool Victoria Hospital’s neonatal unit, it quickly became apparent that parents were seeking a more informal environment where they could meet in the company of other neonatal families and chat about their experiences in a relaxed environment.
“We encouraged parents to come along for coffee and cake to meet other families, chat about their fears or experiences, and to tell us what we could be doing better,” said Julie. “We took their advice on board and, with the help of some promotional posters and encouraging colleagues, Neo Natters was born.”
Julie teamed up with Jen Cuffe, a former NICU parent at the hospital, who provided invaluable insight into the resources and facilities that would be most helpful to parents with babies in the neonatal unit.
“Having experienced the struggle of splitting time between older children and a baby on the neonatal unit, I know how important it is to provide flexible support that embraces the varied needs of the families who arrive on the unit.“
Working together, Jen and Julie began developing Neo Natters into an inclusive and responsive FICare resource that adapted to the changing needs of Blackpool Neonatal Unit’s babies and families. One of the first supplementary services developed was mobile Neo Natters, which was built around a branded trolley that allowed Neo Natters to visit parents who wanted or needed to remain cot side. Jen and Julie took the time to pay parents a personal visit, providing a friendly ear to give families the opportunity to discuss their thoughts or concerns.
The mobile trolley also made it possible for Neo Natters to come to those in transitional care, so all parents felt included regardless of their baby’s place in their neonatal journey. The Neo Natters team continued to take on feedback from families to provide further supplementary services in the form of ‘Dads Matter’ sessions, Chaplaincy visits, and are currently sourcing support for mindfulness sessions as they seek to meet the varied needs of their families.
Together, Jen and Julie have transformed Neo Natters into an innovate, parent-centred FICare resource that helps each family navigate their NICU journey from start to finish, and even beyond. Families who have graduated from Blackpool Hospitals neonatal care are invited to join ‘Nurtured in Neonates’ sessions. These sessions are held once a month for any child up to five years old (along with their siblings) who has been discharged from NICU. They provide a safe space for children and parents alike to socialise with other families who have similar experiences.
According to Jen and Julie, the implementation of this support has fostered a culture of trust, ensuring most issues can be mitigated before they become a problem for the parent or the unit. As a result, the trust has 100% satisfaction scores, boosting confidence in parents and prompting many staff members to engage in promotion of the Neo Natters programme.
While some of the changes made by the Neo Natters team have required significant planning and administration, there are many other small actions completed by the team that have had a big impact on the unit’s families. These include:
- Managing links between hospitals pre- or post-transfer to ease the process, including offering travel and parking information
- Providing an admission checklist
- Providing parent orientations on arrival in NICU, including log in information for vCreate
- Arranging a parking pass
- Ensuring parents receive three hot meals a day cotside
- Fostering a matneo link within the Trust
- Dynamic action tracker to identify, mitigate and action
Jen and Julie also go out of their way to ensure they mark every holiday and event, helping parents and siblings feel more connected to their new family member, and providing support for families splitting time between their children.
While this service has become an invaluable part of the unit, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Jen and Julie highlighted funding and time commitment as two of their largest hurdles. Additionally, the complex social needs and varied experiences of the families who find themselves on the unit require a very flexible approach. According to the team, mental health provisions are also a key concern in their plans moving forward; while they are able to signpost and have a counsellor available for support, the unit doesn’t currently employ a psychologist who is qualified to provide immediate mental health advice to parents in need.
When asked what advice they would give units hoping to implement the Neo Natters service, Julie and Jen emphasised how important it is for teams to persevere and to be consistent. Using the feedback of families on their unit, the Neo Natters team continually adapted to the needs of the parents and babies, providing a reliable service that was delivered without fail. Even when face with low engagement, the team continued to consider how they could alter their support offer to meet the needs of those in their care.
Neo Natters has created a safe space for families, both within the neonatal unit and in the wider community. The hard work of Jen, Julie and their supportive team members has created an innovative and flexible FICare solution that continues to positively impact of the lives of those who find themselves being cared for on Blackpool Neonatal Unit.
On 29th November 2023, we will be hosting Julie and Jen for an exciting webinar delving deeper into their inspirational FICare programme. Join us 1pm – 2pm to find out more about how they created, and continue to deliver, their Neo Natters support offer.