Leeds hospital scheme empowers parents to care for early babies

Sarah Sevier, her husband Martin, their twins Freya and Olivia, five-year-old Gracie, and nursery nurse Denise Warren
Sarah Sevier, her husband Martin, their twins Freya and Olivia, five-year-old Gracie, and nursery nurse Denise Warren
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When Sarah Sevier’s twin girls arrived 10 weeks early, they were whisked straight away for medical attention.

The identical twins had been diagnosed with the potentially very serious twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome and needed immediate care.

Though hospital staff in Leeds encouraged Sarah and her husband Martin to bond through techniques like skin-to-skin contact, their babies needed extra care – first in ICU and later a neonatal unit.

But thanks to a pioneering programme being run at St James’s Hospital, parents of babies in the neonatal unit have been brought closer to their poorly little ones.

The Family Integrated Care programme, the first of its kind in the country, empowers parents to take control of their baby’s care by being given the skills to become more involved and build confidence.

Mums and dads are given coaching on day-to-day activities like feeding and changing – which can be tricky with such tiny babies – as well as taking regular observations and giving medication.

Dr Liz McKechnie, consultant neonatologist, said: “Family Integrated Care is an innovative way of caring for the smallest, poorliest babies we treat at St James’s. Ordinarily nurses and consultants do most of the care which means parents can feel isolated from looking after their baby.

“We wanted to change this to provide a truly patient-centred service that provides the best for the babies and their parents. Introducing Family Integrated Care on to the unit meant a big change in the way we worked and a complete shift in our mindset but the results speak for themselves. It’s really quite incredible.”

The programme started a year ago and more than 60 families have taken part.

Rates of breastfeeding at discharge from hospital have doubled to nearly 60 per cent and the length of stay has been reduced by up to nine days in babies born up to 10 weeks early. Infections and complications also seem to be improved.

For Sarah, from Churwell, Leeds, it has helped hugely to be involved in the care of Olivia, who was 2lbs 1oz at birth, and Freya, who was 3lbs 4oz.

“We can do everything – the nappies, the feeding as both of them were having to be fed by tube, and medication as both of them are on a multivitamin and iron supplements.

“I would be a lot more worried to take them home if it had not made me more confident about feeding, as Olivia may need to come home with a tube.

“The nurses are fantastic too, especially with Gracie, our five-year-old.”

Rachel Roberts gave birth to Autumn last August, 11 weeks early, at St James’s.

She said: “It was a very frightening time – there were so many tubes and monitors I was completely overwhelmed. The Family Integrated Care team empowered me to do things that I didn’t think I could ever do, which had a huge benefit for both Autumn and myself and for that I will never be able to thank them enough. Autumn is now nearly nine months old, is doing incredibly well and is a very happy and healthy baby.”

After the success of the programme, it is now hoped it will be rolled out to the neonatal unit at Leeds General Infirmary.