Designing better mental healthcare facilities

University’s new midwifery suite ‘at the cutting edge of maternity care’

The mental wellbeing of women throughout their pregnancy and beyond is at the heart of a multi-million-pound centre at the University of Sunderland, which will ‘educate the next generation of midwives’.

The University will welcome its first students to the new Midwifery Suite in September, with the facility further enhancing its range of healthcare programmes now provided on campus – from medicine, healthcare sciences, paramedic practice, and nursing, to physiotherapy and occupational therapy. Graduating students on the BSc (Hons) Midwifery Practice three-year undergraduate degree –which the University says ‘responds to a national shortage of full-time midwives in the NHS’, will be able to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and practice as a midwife. The programme will also address challenges specifically around perinatal mental health. The University said: “Perinatal mental illness is a major public health issue that can have a devastating impact on women and their families, resulting in conditions such as depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Sue Brent, head of the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, said: “We are delighted about this new development, which will help improve the quality of health and life for women throughout their pregnancy. The programme focuses not only on the physical health of the mother and new-born, but also the mental health of the mother before, during, and after birth. It will provide a unique opportunity for students to understand the challenges faced by midwives as regards mental health.

The Midwifery Suite has been designed as part of a wide-ranging external consultation with regional NHS Trusts, maternity services, and the Patient, Carer, and Public Involvement (PCPI) programme (a group of services-users and carers).  Located in Helen McArdle House, the location of much of the University’s nurse and midwifery training – the Midwifery Suite has been established with the help of £1.8 m in funding from Health Education England, the Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust, and NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group. It incorporates the latest equipment in maternity care – to take students from antenatal care and childbirth, through to post-natal support, and ‘reflects how mothers are choosing their care’.  There are ‘state-of-the-art delivery suites’, including a birthing pool, and a maternal and foetal simulation system, which ‘enables the appreciation of the birthing experience’ – from the onset of labour, through to the birth, to treatment of the mother in the postnatal period. Breast-feeding mannequins ensure that students are educated in line with UNICEF’s ‘baby-friendly’ initiative.

Clinical placements are also a key part of the programme, and will be delivered in collaboration with South Tyneside and Sunderland NHS Foundation Trust, North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust, Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust, Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust, Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Tees, Esk & Wear Valley NHS Foundation Trust, and Cumbria, Northumberland, Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust.

Lead Midwife for Education, Linda McNamee, said: “Our programme is innovative not just within the north-east, but nationally. The approach to ensure that mental health is a key focus whilst training new midwives which will provide both students and employers with a new breed of midwife, that is fully educated to the required NMC standards, but has a detailed understanding of the mental health needs and requirements of individuals accessing the midwifery service.” She added: “The key element is we have built our new facility around the needs of the public, following a wide consultation.".

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