Letter to the Editor: Staff at baby care unit go above and beyond call of duty

File photo.

I believe there were many discussions on the radio at the beginning of April regarding our maternity hospitals and the standard of care and service provided by the staff.

I did not get to hear any of the conversations as I was in the hospital myself at the time had given birth to our third child on March 31.

I appreciate that everyone’s experiences are entirely personal and have learned from speaking to many midwives/nurses that it is only if people complain that issues are highlighted and actions might be taken to improve things.

In light of all the negativity I have decided to pen this letter is to describe my positive experiences in Mayo University Hospital, with nurses and midwives recently and to express my gratitude to all those staff.

This is by no means a compliment to the HSE structure in its entirety, but I do feel those that provide positive experiences should also be recognised.

Within 12 hours of being born our daughter was transferred to SCBU (special care baby unit) needing urgent medical attention. This was my first experience of SCBU and I cannot say a single negative thing about the staff we interacted with during our daughter’s time in their care.

These nurses/midwives are tasked with caring for the most precious of life, a parent’s bundle of joy,

those that may be born premature or take ill after being born as our daughter did. On top of being responsible for small sick babies, these staff also have to be conscious of the stress being experienced by

the parents at such a worrying time and mindful of them also.

Every member of staff I met, including the doctors, began our interaction on a positive note, congratulating us on the birth of our daughter, such a small thing you might think but it had a very reassuring effect on me and something that has stuck in my mind since.

The midwives in SCBU are responsible for feeding/administration of medication and the overall care of these small/sick babies, who are so vulnerable and completely dependent on them, an incredible responsibility in my opinion.

Let’s not forget nappy changes, baths and winding after feeds, anyone who has had any experience with children knows newborn babies are time-consuming.

I was shocked to learn there are three staff assigned to SCBU on a daily basis, who during our stay were caring for up to 10 babies on some occasions. This is completely bonkers and it baffles me as to how it is allowed to be like this. In crèches, the ratio of staff to kids 0-12 months is one staff member to every three children, which increases to 1 staff member to five children 12 months-2 years.

The children attending the crèches are perfectly healthy and fit, so to me, it makes absolutely no sense that three midwives are expected to care for so many sick babies on a daily basis. As I said they are responsible for the most important and precious new life.

This, as I saw first-hand, can be a very stressful environment and I was shocked to learn that following an intense period such as the arrival of premature babies/twins/a very sick baby, that the staff don’t even get a brief period to even catch their breath as it were, God forbid there was a death on the unit… the staff are then expected to continue their normal duties. Surely these work conditions are not good for the staff’s own mental health.

On a daily basis, the staff of SCBU are required to cover each other’s breaks — this means those on the unit are under additional pressure. Staff are also under-resourced when colleagues are required to be present in theatre for the delivery of babies. I find it astounding that management allows this to happen. During the week we met a nurse who began work at 7am and didn’t get a break until 3pm, another member of staff on the maternity ward was only given the opportunity to take her to break an hour before she finished work. There was one nurse who at 1pm hadn’t been able to go to the bathroom since beginning work at 7am. This sort of treatment of staff is unacceptable.

I believe these examples I have listed demonstrate the calibre of people the patients are lucky to have caring for them, that they are putting the patients before themselves.

I know plenty people and professions, as I’m sure we all do, where once 11am comes around they down tools and go for their break, regardless of the queue waiting to be dealt with, and do the same at lunchtime and probably their afternoon cuppa also!

During our time in SCBU, not a single nurse was rude to us, they were all friendly and reassuring and helpful, which is difficult to believe when you think of the work conditions they are enduring. I found all these staff were also very mindful of the worry and upset being experienced by my husband and myself seeing our daughter so sick.

I honestly cannot say a negative thing about our experience in Castlebar Maternity Unit SCBU. I believe it’s an absolute disgrace how the staff are treated by management. The entire organisation preys on the character of a person who usually becomes a nurse, expecting them to stay on beyond their tour of duty/shift because of staff shortages and ultimately getting nothing for it, no overtime, no late start on their next shift, because if they say no, who suffers?

Certainly not management but the ordinary decent people needing medical care. Working for free! It is absurd.

As I said from the outset, I appreciate everyone’s experiences are personal and different and yes many have had negative ones, but this letter is a reflection of those recently experienced by my husband and I.

Thank you ever so much to all the amazing staff of Castlebar Maternity Unit and SCBU for the wonderful care you gave our daughter and us. I have so much respect for you and a new found appreciation of how hard your jobs are as a result of my time in hospital in March/April this year.

Mary Carney



This reader's opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on June 19, 2019.

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