Trust pioneers parent-delivered care for premature babies

Parents of premature babies are being given a much greater role in the care of their children thanks to a pioneering new approach to neonatal care being introduced at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

The approach, which has been funded by a £180,000 grant from Imperial Health Charity, is the first of its kind in the UK and is part of an initiative which sees the parents of premature babies become the main caregiver while in hospital, with the support and supervision of neonatal doctors and nurses.

Putting parents at the forefront of their premature baby’s care has been found not only to reduce anxiety in parents and their baby, but can also benefit the baby’s medical progress and development. Family-delivered care is also linked to improvements in weight gain, higher breastfeeding rates, and reductions in infections and length of hospital stay.

Parents taking part in the initiative take the lead in caregiving tasks such as feeding, taking observations, and nappy changing. They also present their baby’s progress to the clinical team during ward rounds and have equal involvement in discussions and decisions about the care of their child. Parents are supported by an educational programme which includes one-to-one and small group teaching and assessments.

As part of the programme, neonatal experts at the Trust have worked with parents of premature babies to develop a new app giving parents easy access to all the information they need about caring for premature babies. The ‘Integrated Family Delivered Neonatal Care’ app means parents can access medically accurate information from a trusted source, eliminating the need for internet searches which can be overwhelming. There is also a diary section which enables new mums and dads to record their baby’s progress and journey, and a secure messaging function which allows parents to send updates to other family members on their baby’s progress.

Video credit: Evening Standard

Dr Aniko Deierl, project lead and neonatal consultant at the Trust, said:

“Parents on the ward can be a really overwhelmed and scared at what’s going on in a neonatal unit. This new approach aims to change that by reducing the parents stress and anxiety by allowing them to play a bigger role in the care of their baby. It also allows for vital family bonding which is fundamental to a baby’s development and progress.

“Parents can decide to take part in the initiative once their baby is medically stable. Parents will be asked to stay 6-8 hours a day providing care to their babies, with support of the doctors and nurses on the ward.”

Jenny and Alex Vaidya have been taking part in the new initiative with staff at Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital with their baby boy Jack, who was born at 29 weeks. Speaking about their experience, they said:

“Taking part in this project has been such a great experience and we feel so lucky to be a part of it. You don't expect you’ll be spending the first month or two of your baby’s life in a hospital, but from day one we have been able to care for and really bond with Jack. We’re now part of the ward rounds and are able to talk to the doctors about Jack’s progress.

“The app is fantastic, we use it every day to record progress but to also monitor how far we’ve come. We’re hopefully heading home in the next couple of weeks and we feel really confident about caring for Jack once we leave the hospital.”

Ian Lush, Chief Executive of Imperial Health Charity, said:

“Imperial Health Charity is delighted to be supporting this project, which helps parents of premature babies feel less isolated and confused at what is a very stressful time. The app helps them to communicate with family and friends as their baby progresses, while the involvement in the daily care of their baby is proven to bring real benefits to the baby and parents alike.”

Each year more than 900 babies are admitted to the Trust’s two neonatal units, at St Mary’s and Queen Charlotte’s & Chelsea hospitals, making the Trust one of the largest neonatal service providers in the UK. They treat babies born as young as 23-24 weeks.

The team delivering the integrated family delivered neonatal care programme includes neonatal consultants, senior nursing team, nursing educators, breast feeding consultants, paediatric dietician, speech therapist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, psychologist, developmental care therapist.

The app has been designed to support the parents of premature babies at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, however is available for general download around the world on both IOS and Android.