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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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Furness General Hospital staff playing a vital role in creating families

AS Furness General Hospital works to recover following a series of damning reports, EMMA PRESTON is being given behind-the-scenes access to speak to staff on the wards.
Today, as maternity staff around the world mark the International Day of the Midwife, she brings an exclusive report from the FGH labour ward.

AN alarm is ringing in the corridors of Furness General Hospital’s maternity unit as a midwife makes the emergency phonecall: “Neonatal crash call required on labour ward”.

Less than two minutes later, I am quick to stand back as two doctors march past me.

At the same time, two specialist nurses arrive from the hospital’s special care baby unit.

Straight away, they start helping treat the baby in front of me, the consultant and midwife swapping information as they work.

Not even the bat of an eyelid betrays their surprise that the child is made of plastic.

This is a Skills Drill.

Held at least once a week on the FGH labour ward, the completely unscheduled exercises replicate different emergency scenarios that could unfold during or after a birth.

The only person who knows it is a practice run is the labour ward co-ordinator who calls it, meaning that, until they arrive in the room, everyone else thinks they are attending a real emergency.

On arrival, they carry on treating the “patient” as usual.

Nadia Frascarelli, FGH midwife and labour ward co-ordinator, explains: “Emergencies happen so quickly in obstetrics, and we do lots of training so we’re ready for that at all times.

“A Skills Drill is an opportunity to learn.

“You’ve got to look at it like it’s a real situation.

“There are several emergencies we might do and, afterwards, we’ll discuss what went well and look at what we can learn.”

Nadia and fellow labour ward co-ordinator, Paula Brown, have taken the opportunity to hold the drill as I have chosen a particularly quiet day to test out life on the labour ward.

Afternoons like this give midwives the chance to do equipment checks, intranet training and everyday tasks such as re-stocking medication.

And while I am more than happy to join the pair as they show me around the different birthing rooms, I must confess to being a little disappointed at the lack of newborn babies to coo over. Because that is what midwives do, right?

Nadia raises her eyes to the heavens.

“People think being a midwife is literally about delivering babies”, she says, “and some of it is – but there’s a huge amount of care that goes on before and after that.”

Paula adds: “Mostly, our job is helping people deal with a hell of a lot of pain, fear and anxiety.

“Sometimes you get someone who just says, ‘I’m not doing it, I’m not pushing’, and you’re the one that’s got to convince them that, actually, they have to.

“We’d be great hostage negotiators.”

Paula and Nadia laugh as they compare war stories.

Paula tells me: “It’s a tough, high-pressured job.

“It’s messy, it smells, we’re dealing with body fluids of every type you can think of, on a daily basis.

“I’ve been kicked, I’ve been punched – most of the time people don’t mean to do it. It’s the pain.

“They apologise afterwards, but you find yourself with a few bruises.”

Despite the occupational hazards, both women are brimming with enthusiasm for what they do.

In a bid to give me the baby fix I had expected before my visit, Nadia takes me over to the maternity ward, where I meet Abi Mae and her mum, Tina Thompson.

Miss Thompson, who had an emergency cesarean section last Sunday cannot praise the midwives highly enough – describing how they set her mind at rest beforehand and cared for her throughout.

The relationship between mother and midwife is clearly a vital part of any birth, and often Paula and Nadia have mere minutes to build that bond.

Yet both say it is impossible not to get attached to the women they work with during longer labours – even at the end of a 12-hour slog.

Paula tells me: “We’ve all done it – where we’ve got involved with someone and ended up staying beyond our shift.

“The longer you’ve been in the job, the easier you find it to leave – when I first started I wanted to stay with everybody.”

Nadia adds: “You can’t switch off. You go home from your shift, and you wake up thinking about them.

“Generally, you either ring up the labour ward, or the first thing you do when you come in for your next shift is look them up.

“Everybody does it.”

There is obviously a strong emotional side to being a midwife, which surely must make it harder when a birth doesn’t go as everyone hopes?

A midwife of 17 years, Paula has seen cases where mums and babies do not survive the birth.

“No matter how good we are, or how well trained we are, there’s always going to be a situation where it’s just completely unpreventable”, she says.

“We do everything to the best of our ability, but some things are just beyond our control.

“I remember one really bad case I had in my last hospital.

“Everybody else left the room crying, but it was only about two hours later, when someone asked if I was okay, that I just burst into tears.”

Paula and Nadia agree the most important tool they have in dealing tragedies is a team of colleagues who form a strong support network.

Despite both being new additions – Paula having moved to FGH from the Wirral five weeks ago and Nadia having spent seven weeks here after 11 years at the Royal Lancaster Infirmary – they already feel part of the FGH family.

Paula says: “It’s a great little unit and the staff are so dedicated.

Nadia adds: “They’re fabulous, absolutely lovely and so close with one another.”

With that, I decide I’ve taken up enough of their time, and make my way back to the office. My time in maternity has been fun, yet a real eye-opener as to what our midwives face on a daily basis.

  • Next week, Emma visits the nurses at FGH’s accident and emergency department. Find out how she fares in Saturday’s Evening Mail.

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