Seeing life on a neonatal unit for the first time

Posted on December 05, 2016

Seeing Life On A Neonatal Unit For The First Time Hero

David Boorman, the new Head of Fundraising and Communications at Bliss, visited neonatal units up and down the country for World Prematurity Day. Read David's experience of his first time visiting neonatal units.

As part of World Prematurity Day 2016, I went on a tour of neonatal units across the UK, travelling to Birmingham, London, North Wales and Yorkshire. I’m quite new to Bliss, so as well as a chance to thank unit staff and volunteers for everything they were doing to spread the news about World Prematurity Day, it was also a chance for me to learn more about life on a neonatal unit.

On my travels I’ve been to Birmingham City Hospital, where staff were hosting a family-centred care stall, Homerton Hospital in East London to meet the Occupational Therapists who deliver FINE training to healthcare professionals, Maelor Hospital in Wrexham to see their fantastic World Prematurity celebrations, and Barnsley Hospital to talk about the Bliss baby charter. Whilst every unit I visited was different, one striking thing they had in common was the dedication and passion of all the staff I met. Nurses had come in on their days off to talk to parents or to fundraise, and staff took time from their busy day to show me round or tell me about the issues they face each day. I’d like to offer a special thanks to Nicola, Emily, Debbie and Kay for hosting me on these trips.

I wasn’t sure what to expect before my visits, my experience in hospitals has been limited to sitting in A&E with a broken shoulder or visiting elderly relatives. The closest I had come to this world I was about to step into was holding my newly born twin nephews in the Rosie Maternity Ward at Addenbrookes in Cambridge. But I wasn’t surprised to find bustling, beeping environments filled with exceptional staff delivering excellent care. Every Bliss case study or news story about poorly babies I’ve ever read talked about the nurses as angels, and it was heart-warming to see this in action.

I was surprised, however, to see the disparities in resources and facilities across the different units. They all had, to some degree, the same basic structure. They all had intensive care cots, high dependency rooms and quiet spaces. They all had nurses’ stations, staff rooms, expressing rooms and family areas. But the age, quality, size and comfort of each facility varied wildly from unit to unit. For an intensive care unit to have nowhere for parents to sleep when they want to be close to their baby, or for mothers to have to breastfeed their child in a glorified cupboard is a travesty. I was struck by just how far we have to go before parents are truly part of their babies’ care, and the voices of premature and sick babies are central to decisions about neonatal provision in the UK.

But that, of course, is why Bliss exists, and why we need your support to help us fight for change. Our latest report shone a light on the disturbing disparities in facilities across the country, and the Bliss baby charter helps unit staff highlight areas for change. But there’s still a long way to go. Over the next month, as you’re getting your decorations ready and planning your celebrations, you’ll hear more about the families that won’t be spending Christmas together, and why Bliss needs your help to support them.

Visiting four neonatal units in two weeks has been one of the most rewarding and eye-opening experiences of my life. I will never forget the compassion and determination in the nurses’ eyes as they care diligently for the babies in their charge despite being stretched beyond capacity. I’ll never forget the warmth of the parents towards the staff who care for their children and teach them how to feed and clothe them. But most of all, I’ll never forget the tiny babies, surrounded by experts but nonetheless extremely vulnerable. Together we can help make their voices heard, and together we can give them the best possible chance of survival and quality of life.

David wasn't the only member of Bliss staff visiting neonatal units for World Prematurity Day, with staff going to neonatal units up and down the country to learn more about the vital work they do for babies born premature or sick.