The inspiring work done by the Buscot Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital
PUBLISHED: 16:12 25 July 2014 | UPDATED: 16:12 25 July 2014
No new parent wants to find themselves peering into a special care incubator, but others who have known their anxiety can help, Linda Fawke discovers
Those whose children have passed through the Buscot Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading are always grateful for the professional and personal support which led to them eventually bringing home their precious little one.
They might be forgiven, therefore, if the darkest moments surrounding what should be the happy event of a new arrival are put in the past as the child grows into a chirpy toddler. However, BIBS (Babies in Buscot Support) a small, energetic charity totally run by volunteers, includes many parents and relatives with first-hand experience of tiny, premature or very ill full-term babies.
Rachel Argent, the mother of Verity who was born at 30 weeks in 2011, is the Chair of the BIBS committee. Having experienced the distress of having a baby not only unexpectedly early but also very poorly puts her in an ideal position to understand the needs of Buscot parents.
The same applies to Phil Meredith, who is Vice-Chair. He is the father of two premature babies, both born at 25/26 weeks. Ryan was born last year and was in Buscot ward for around 15 weeks. Both parents wanted to give something back to Buscot ward for the care their babies received and so became BIBS volunteers. An excellent relationship has been built up between the BIBs committee and the Lead Sister on the ward.
“At times it felt we would never leave Buscot Ward as Verity didn’t go home until she was over 13 weeks old,” recalls Rachel. “We could not have done it without the fantastic support of all the staff on Buscot.”
The help that BIBS provides falls into three categories: purchasing equipment for the ward, providing facilities for parents on the ward and support for the parents themselves. All are important. In the last year, they have funded the purchase of a new transport incubator costing £35,000 to transfer babies safely between hospitals.
They also provide many smaller items which they call ‘developmental care aids’: positioning devices for babies, gel pillows to prevent babies getting flattened heads and breast pumps for mothers to use on the ward and take home. These smaller items make life easier for parents and their little ones and are outside the essential equipment needed for clinical care that the NHS provides. Without BIBS, the ward would simply not have them.
Parents try to stay with their babies as much as possible and BIBS has furnished and maintains two overnight rooms, a family lounge and a quiet room for parents only. A kitchenette contains a fridge, microwave, kettle and tea and coffee supplies. This makes a huge difference to parents’ experience on the ward. Privacy screens and proper breast feeding chairs are amongst other BIBS purchases, as are lockers for personal possessions that are not allowed on the ward.
While the physical support is immensely valuable, the emotional help BIBS provides is possibly even more important. They fund two NCT (National Childbirth Trust) post-natal specialists for the ward, one a feeding specialist, the other a counsellor dealing with emotional needs. They provide two sessions a week to the ward.
In addition, every Wednesday a parent volunteer goes along to talk to any parents who need the help of someone who knows what they are going through and understands their stresses and fears. As both Rachel and Phil point out, some babies arrive so early that the parents have not attended any ante-natal classes and have no group support network to call on as happens when babies are full-term.
Phil talked about his Wednesday visits to the ward. Most of the volunteers are mums so he believes he can add something extra: “Dads sometimes feel uncomfortable – they find it difficult to express their worries. Often they think they should be the strong ones, supporting their wives.” Speaking openly to the father of two premature babies helps. “I get good vibes from the dads,” he says.
When Phil’s first baby, Georgia, was born in 2005, he and his wife received a lot of help from Bliss, the national charity for premature babies. Bliss was their phone support – ‘a lifeline’ Phil calls them. He continues to support and work with Bliss, which is trying to raise with government the particular issues that the parents of premature babies experience.
One major problem is financial. Parents who are visiting hospital daily have to pay for travel, and this can be many miles. Some hospitals charge for parking – although Buscot provides free permits – and if there are no facilities for preparing food, everything has to be bought. Breast-feeding mothers must eat well and some struggle to finance this along with the other additional costs. The new facilities that BIBS provides for families help considerably to ease these worries. Bliss has recently produced an excellent report detailing the additional expenditure a premature baby causes with the aim of getting government support.
Rachel first became aware of BIBS when Verity was on Buscot ward on Mothering Sunday. All the Mums received a card from their babies – a lovely gesture that BIBS organised. This is typical of BIBS who also decorate the ward at Christmas and provide little stockings for the babies. None of these activities influences the clinical care that babies receive but they do make an enormous difference to the parents at an immensely difficult time. BIBS also acts as a liaison between the ward and the parents, making parents’ views known and acting as a general communication channel.
BIBS is run by a committee of eight, all parents who have had babies on Buscot. They have no overheads as they are all volunteers. The two NCT counsellors also sit on the committee. The website (www.bibs.org.uk) has been set up by one of the fathers, and another looks after the accounts. It is amazing what goodwill can achieve.
Decisions on what to buy are made by the committee who are currently raising money for a ‘Giraffe Omnibed’ which costs around £29,000. This is an incubator with a radiant heat source for very sick and fragile babies. As the sides of the incubator can be lowered, the babies can be treated without having to move them, something that can cause them stress.
The charity usually raises in the region of £35-40,000 a year, but there are always needs. There is, however, only so much the committee can do and they rely on donations and other groups raising money. Social media helps. BIBS has a Facebook site and a twitter feed – a recent venture. The committee can keep parents whose babies have left the ward in touch with what is going on and ask for help with current projects. It was a useful means of requesting furniture for the refurbishment of the parents’ rooms.
In March this year, a group of parents, including Rachel, ran the Reading half-marathon to raise money for BIBS. This funded the purchase of 11 ‘hot cots’, replacing the previous gel mattresses. Babies are moved to these when they are well enough to leave an incubator. They help to regulate temperature and mould to the baby’s shape.
The traditional view of neonatal treatment is that the baby is the patient and the sole point of concern. BIBS has a wider view. “We try to provide support for the whole family,” Rachel explains. And with the success of BIBS, they are doing just that.
See www.bibs.org.uk Twitter @BabiesinBuscot