Unicef UK President Kirsty Young and Dame Pippa Harris visit first Baby Friendly Neonatal Unit

Home > Unicef UK President Kirsty Young and Dame Pippa Harris visit first Baby Friendly Neonatal Unit

16 October 2017

We were delighted to welcome Unicef UK President Kirsty Young and Call the Midwife’s Executive Producer Dame Pippa Harris to Royal Devon & Exeter’s neonatal unit last month, the first unit to achieve full Baby Friendly neonatal accreditation.

Kirsty and Dame Pippa were joined by Unicef UK’s Executive Director Mike Penrose and Baby Friendly Programme Director Sue Ashmore, to see the Baby Friendly Initiative neonatal standards in action.

With 1 in 10 babies in the UK being admitted to a neonatal unit every year, it is crucial that neonatal care gives these babies the best possible chance to thrive. By implementing the Baby Friendly neonatal standards, Royal Devon & Exeter are leading the way in transforming care for sick and premature babies, with a focus on enabling them to receive breastmilk and to breastfeed where possible, supporting parents to develop close and loving relationships with their baby, and valuing parents as partners in care.

As well as hearing from staff, Kirsty and Dame Pippa had the chance to talk to families to hear first-hand how their voices and wellbeing are being put right at the heart of care. In Dame Pippa’s words:

“I was lucky enough to be invited to visit the brilliant NHS neonatal unit at the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital. Together with Unicef UK’s President, Kirsty Young (who is herself a big CTM fan!) we met the wonderful hospital staff, and saw how they are transforming the care of sick and preterm babies and their families.”

“When we arrived we were met by Matron, Louise Rattenbury, Lead Nurse Sue Prosser and Karen Read, the unit’s infant feeding coordinator. They explained how Unicef’s Baby Friendly programme had provided a practical framework for caring not only for very sick babies but for their families too. The unit looks after babies from 27 weeks gestation, and allows access for parents 24 hours a day.”

“Under their holistic approach, parents are encouraged to stay with their babies as much as they want, with beds, food and drink provided. Mothers are helped to express milk and breast feed, and even when the babies are in incubators they are encouraged and supported to have skin to skin contact. Siblings are also welcomed to the unit, and there is a playroom for them full of books and toys. The whole unit had a wonderfully calm and welcoming atmosphere. It’s obviously a highly specialised medical environment, but it doesn’t feel daunting in any way. Small touches like colourful curtains around the incubators and low lighting, all help to create a warm, safe environment. Consultant Dr Dave Bartle told us that Unicef have been working with the unit for the past 5 years and together they have transformed the care of these tiny babies, not only safe guarding their survival, but supporting parents to make close and loving bonds with their babies – bonds which will last a lifetime.”…

“One of the things which fascinated me was the emphasis on skin to skin care (or Kangaroo care) which many of you will remember we showed in CTM in our very first episode of series 1 (photo, bottom right). In that story, Conchita Warren gave birth to a very premature son, but refused to let him be taken to hospital. Instead she tucked him into her nightie and fed him breast milk using an icing rod. Her baby survived and thrived. All these years later, it’s obvious that skin to skin care for newborns, and breastfeeding are vital when nurturing such premature infants. I think Sister Evangelina would approve!”

Huge thanks to Kirsty and Dame Pippa for their time, and to Royal Devon & Exeter for their brilliant work supporting vulnerable babies and their families.

Find out more

Blog: Transforming care for our most vulnerable babies

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Small changes for neonatal units mean big rewards for babies and parents

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Neonatal unit guidance: implementing the standards

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