Lifesaving neonatal unit saved at SWAH

THE neonatal unit at the SWAH is back up and running, following much hard work at the Western Trust, and the director who has driven this success said she feels it shows the Trust can “get it turned around with obs and gynae” too.

In January last year the Herald revealed the life-saving had been slashed from six specialist cots to just two cots for emergencies as a result of staff shortages. In October past, the Trust announced it was well on the way to reopening the unit after extensive recruitment efforts and plans to implement a new family-centred model of care.

At the March meeting of the Western Trust board, director of women and children’s healthcare at the Trust, Mary McKenna, outlined how the situation at the unit had been turned around.


Ms McKenna gave the board a very detailed breakdown of the recent history of the SWAH unit, recalling how “the depletion of staff began in 2020.”

She said issues began when some of these staff members reached retirement age, and by 2021 the team had been significantly depleted.

“We were struggling,” she said, adding, “We coped with having retired staff coming back to work for us, and we had retired staff three years, still working for us.”

However, with recruitment efforts proving unsuccessful, Ms McKenna said became “vocal about their manager but they were also talking about patient safety.”

“It got to the stage where good will was finished and they were burned out,” she said. Ms McKenna and her team implemented contingency plans in the interest of babies’ safety, and began to work to resolve the issues, which included unhappiness with its management and the ongoing staff shortages.

“There were times we had to bring in contingency plans and said we were going to have to close because there were no staff at the weekends because someone was off sick and there was absolutely no way to backfill that,” she said.

“So the impact it had was on the mood and morale and it really pulled the whole thing down, and we really had staff who were very critical and had no trust in management.”


Efforts to tackle the issues included involving a leadership expert, who interviewed staff one-to-one. While she said some staff were unhappy with the report that resulted from this exercise, feeling it was “watered down”, Ms McKenna said the staff’s concerned had been noted by her and the Trust.

Meanwhile recruitment efforts were continuing, and while there had previously been no applicants to the role, the Trust was successful in recruiting a Band 7 neonatal nurse in November past.

Ms McKenna added the Trust had also brought in the support charity Tiny Life, which led to the recruitment of a Tiny Life family support worker for the Fermanagh and Omagh area and was also continuing to engage with families of babies who had used the unit.

She said work was ongoing on implementing a new model that was family-centred and would help keep the unit viable in future.

“Now we know we have to move forward to a long-term sustainable model and we have engaged with how we can take this forward with the staff,” she said.

Ms McKenna added, “This is why I’ve always said, we’ll get it turned around with obs and gynae. I do believe we’ll get it turned around.”

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