UK & World News

  • 10 November 2012, 14:55

NHS Volunteers Help Ease Maternity Pressure

Volunteers are being used by the NHS at the Royal Gwent Hospital in South Wales to ease pressure on overstretched maternity wards.

Twenty so-called "maternity buddies" handle babies at the request of new mums while they sleep or shower, sit and chat to keep them company, help with meals, or even change water in flower vases.

The unpaid helpers are given basic training in confidentiality and infection control but are not permitted to carry out any clinical duties including bathing or changing newborns' nappies.

The buddy scheme was piloted at the hospital over a six-month period and has now gone live due to its success.

Linda Hall, a mother of four and grandmother of two, finds time around her full-time job at a nursery to pop into the postnatal ward whenever she can.

"The midwives are so busy that sometimes the new mums are anxious about buzzing and asking for help," she said.

"So we just come along and get them some milk or some drinks - all the things the midwives struggle to fit into their busy days."

The scheme is intended to free up the midwives so they can focus on clinical care.

The Royal College of Midwives believes there is a shortfall of around 5,000 midwives in England and Wales as a result of the birth rate exceeding the rate of midwives joining the profession by around 6%.

But the Aneurin Bevan Health Board in Gwent maintains the buddy scheme is not about plugging a staffing gap.

Suzanna Hardacre, the senior midwifery manager at the Royal Gwent Hospital, said: "We're not short-staffed. We don't have any shortages of health care support workers or with midwives. There are sufficient clinical staff to be able to give that care.

"Our volunteers are purely there to enhance the patient and the woman's experience while she is in hospital with us."

A recruitment drive is now under way to bolster the number of volunteers in NHS hospitals across the UK.

Many hospitals already enlist them to help patients eat their meals and the Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Trust says their volunteers sometimes help to make the beds.

But Beverley Lawrence Beech, from the Association For The Improvement of Maternity Services, warns that unskilled helpers are no substitute for trained health professionals.

"If they really want to enhance patient experiences what they should be providing is community based midwifery. But this is the first step towards removing yet more midwives," she said.

"Frilly hand-holding is no substitute for proper trained midwives who know to look out for things like postnatal depression or infections."

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