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Trust committed to working through staffing challenges at Neonatal Unit, South West Acute Hospital

Deirdre Mahon, Director of Women and Children’s Services

Deirdre Mahon, Director of Women and Children’s Services at the Western Health and Social Care Trust said:

“I want to acknowledge the public’s concern surrounding the current position of our neonatal unit in South West Acute Hospital. Many will have seen the negative narrative online and in press in recent days. Contrary to some incorrect information quoted, I would like to reassure expectant parents and the wider public that the Trust is committed to working through the staffing challenges faced in the Neonatal unit at South West Acute Hospital and indeed support Neonatal services and maternity services across the Trust as a whole.

“It is important that the public and key stakeholders are aware of the background of the unit, its current position, the work we have completed to date and work that is currently ongoing.” Deirdre explains: “The unit is commissioned for six special care cots. Over recent years/months many senior experienced neonatal nurses have left due to retirement, to pursue a different career pathway or to accommodate a better family life balance. This has left a huge depletion of experienced neonatal nurses with a result that the unit is having great difficulty providing adequate nursing cover for many shifts.

“Contrary to some of the recent headlines, this is not about cutting neonatal or maternity services. We are doing everything in our power to actively try to recruit and address gaps in our workforce to ensure a safe and sustainable neonatal service. However, we have to date been unsuccessful in attracting and employing trained/ experienced neonatal nurses to work in Enniskillen. We recognise that there is a regional and a national shortage of neonatal trained nurses and the situation in South West Acute Hospital has been escalated to the Neonatal Network NI, PHA and HSCB.

“The staffing crisis has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and short-term sick leave and staff isolation within the Western Trust.”

Deirdre continues: “Neonatal Units across the Region have all endured significant staffing shortages and because of the specialist knowledge and skills required to care for preterm and sick babies, there has been no opportunities to seek cross-cover across hospital sites. The Trust do accept nurses (Adult/Children) and Midwives (some midwives are working there temporarily at present but are not Qualified in Specialty) to work in our neonatal units but they require a further period of training and support. They must complete a recognised course (3 neonatal modules) through QUB to get the QIS qualification.

“Whilst we recognise that the shortage of neonatal nurses in South West Acute Hospital has been an ongoing concern, the Unit have implemented contingency plans to ensure that all babies born in the hospital are safely cared for. This has included reducing cot capacity in order to provide emergency and stabilisation of sick and preterm babies to another regional unit for ongoing specialist care if required. It is also important to note that all of the babies transferred during this period would have met the criteria for transfer regardless of the aforementioned challenges. It is also important to note that all of the babies transferred during this period would have met the criteria for transfer regardless of the aforementioned challenges and that to date no babies have been moved to any unit outside of the region.


Read Paediatric Nurse Michelle McElroy’s story of working in the Neonatal Unit, South West Acute Hospital

“As well as the Trust continued and active recruitment, a Project Board is now been established to look at all the different aspects of neonatal service delivery at South West Acute Hospital, to ensure the safe care for all babies born in our hospital and within that, project teams will be implemented to look at key areas within the overall structure. The Health and Social Care Board and the Public Health Agency have members on this Project Board who are working closely with senior management and clinical leads who are responsible for overseeing how this work will move forward.

“South West Acute Hospital senior clinical management team and Human Resources are also currently engaging with an external advertising agency and working with our communication team to plan how we can try to address this nursing shortage locally and as a wider recruitment exercise.

“Initially, as part of this process, there will be a PR campaign launched, highlighting the Trust Neonatal service and the opportunities available there and featuring this as a ‘Great place to work and live’.

“Finally, we acknowledge that the negative headlines and narrative which has been prominent online and in the media recently is unhelpful in attracting staff to take up important roles in South West Acute Hospital. Moving forward, as we strive to promote and highlight Fermanagh as a ‘Great Place to Work and Live’ it will be very important for all key stakeholders and our local communities to work with us in helping promote the campaign and sharing positive messages publicly on this to attract staff to come and work in South West Acute Hospital.”