A day in the life of … Scott O’Brien, modern matron for children’s intensive care

With a fundraising appeal underway to raise money for an extensive refurbishment of St Mary’s Children’s Intensive Care Unit, Scott O’Brien, modern matron, tells us about his role. 

What is a typical day? As every nurse will tell you, there isn’t one.

For me, nursing is such a varied job. That is one of the reasons I love what I do.

Every day presents a new challenge, whether it is supporting staff and families, preparing reports or chairing meetings. The rewards, however, such as saying goodbye to a family whose child was critically ill and now recovered or working with the best team in the world, are just amazing.

I usually start my day checking emails, just a quick scan to see if I need to respond to an event overnight. I go out to see the staff and any new children and families who have been admitted overnight. This is the best part of my day. I am a people person, I suppose all nurses are, and I love to listen to people. I enjoy meeting with the staff, who make the Children’s Intensive Care Unit a wonderful place to work, to listen to their stories and advice and to meet the families.

Some (probably most) of the families are incredibly worried. Their child is critically ill on a life support machine and they are likely to have seen their child deteriorate at their local hospital over a period of hours or days. Now they are in a new environment, surrounded by high-tech equipment which is keeping their child alive. I listen to their stories and try to reassure them that they are in the best place. The parents see the professionalism of the Children’s Intensive Care Unit team and this reassures them.

The majority of comments I receive from families are how fantastic the nurses and doctors are. We have built a team of passionate, dedicated professionals that provide among the highest level of excellence in care found in the country and demonstrate some of the best teamwork of any unit.

We are also a world leader in the understanding and treatment of serious infections in children including meningitis and septicaemia, as well as specialising in other life-threatening conditions such as seizures, asthma, sickle cell disease, severe injuries and helping children recover after major surgery.

Usually I have several meetings to attend during the day. This is where I get a chance to see and contribute to the running of the hospital. Not all meetings are boring, although some are! But on the whole they are invaluable as no unit or division can work in isolation.

We’re about to start a huge refurbishment of the Children’s Intensive Care Unit which will take the best part of two years but will transform the children’s intensive care from an eight-bed, cramped and tired –looking place into an astounding, state-of-the-art , 15-bed unit. Vitally, it will mean that we are much less likely to have to turn away children who need our care because we are full.

Every year, around 400 patients are cared for in the Children’s Intensive Care Unit at St Mary’s but it also turns away hundreds more critically ill children because it does not have enough beds. This means children sometimes have to travel as far afield as Birmingham for treatment. In 2014, the unit had to turn away 233 children, more than half the number admitted.

The expansion of the children’s intensive care unit is a £10 million project supported by Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, Imperial College Healthcare Charity and COSMIC (Children of St Mary’s Intensive Care). The charities are aiming to raise £2 million in the next two years to support the development, which is a mammoth task.

Part of my role is to be an ambassador for the charities. This involves showing potential donors around the unit, talking at large events or visiting schools and sometimes being on the news! I really enjoy this. I love talking about the unit, the staff and the children that come through our doors.

Not many people know about children’s intensive care and often I am asked how I can work in such a sad place. I have been working in children’s intensive care for 19 years and could not see myself anywhere else. I always tell people that, although it can be sad on occasions and emotionally taxing, it is a hopeful and cheerful place because this is where we give children a chance to live. A chance to grow up, to go to school, to meet friends, to fall in love and to have families of their own. Without the fantastic Children’s Intensive Care team, these children may end up not having that chance.

To find out more about the St Mary’s Hospital ‘More Smiles Appeal’ please visit our website www.moresmiles.org.uk, watch our video, follow us on Twitter @MoreSmilesApp and help us raise the money we need for our new PICU.

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