The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

Family Integrated Care programme improves neonatal care at St James’s University Hospital

20 May 2016

The neonatal unit at St James’s are celebrating one year of their Family Integrated Care programme, which is the first of its kind in the country. The programme encourages and empowers parents to take control of their baby’s care whilst on the neonatal unit, which has led to an increase in earlier discharge, fewer infections and better breastfeeding rates.

Since it was introduced to the St James’s neonatal unit in May 2015, more than 60 families have taken part. Parents are given coaching on how to care for their babies, including taking regular observations, giving medication and day-to-day activities like feeding and changing. This means that parents feel more involved in their child’s care and go home feeling far more confident in being able to care for their baby.

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.”

Breastmilk feeding at discharge rates have approximately doubled to nearly 60%. Length of stay has been reduced by up to 9 days in babies born up to 10 weeks early. Infections and complications of being born early also seem to be improved.

Family Integrated Care at LTHT is run by a multidisciplinary team who help to educate parents on every aspect of their baby’s care. This team consists of the neonatal nursing staff, parents of babies born prematurely, an outreach nursing team to support the families when they go home, a physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychology counsellor, a breastfeeding specialist midwife and a consultant neonatologist.

Siobhan Conlin, Matron of the Neonatal Department, said: “The success of Family Integrated Care has been thanks to the parents and staff who have totally embraced the principles of it. This is now just so much part of how we do things here at St James’s that we can’t remember it ever being any other way.

Having a baby in the neonatal unit can be a very stressful time and every parent who has taken part in this programme has said that they feel more relaxed about their baby’s care as they are so involved. It also helps the babies quickly develop strong bonds with their parents as their primary carers and that’s incredibly important to us.”

Rachel Roberts is mum to Autumn who was born last August, 11 weeks early, and she was really keen to take part in the Integrated Care programme whilst Autumn was on the Neo Natal Unit at St James Hospital. 

Rachel said: “As a first time mum the thought of looking after a baby, never mind one so tiny, was completely alien to me. 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. I feel so fortunate that I was given the chance to be part of the Family Integrated Care programme and I believe that Autumn’s fantastic development has been facilitated due to the care I was able to give her when she was so small as a direct result of the programme.”

Following the success of this programme, the Leeds Family Integrated Care Team is now looking to introduce it in the neonatal unit at Leeds General Infirmary. They are also working with other Trusts to share their experiences and help improve neonatal care across the country.