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Psychological support for parents in UK tertiary-level neonatal units—a postcode lottery
  1. J Alam1,
  2. S Ahlund1,
  3. N Thalange2,
  4. P Clarke1
  1. 1Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Norwich, UK
  2. 2Jenny Lind Childrens Department, Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Norwich, UK


Background and Aim Neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are high stress environments for parents and staff. A high prevalence of post-traumatic stress in parents exists, often persisting for years. Maternal anxiety affects infant cognitive and socio-emotional development assessed at 24 months corrected age. The authors aimed to assess current psychological and social support available for parents in UK tertiary-level NICUs.

Methods Telephone survey in August 2009 of all 50 tertiary-level NICUs in the UK. The authors asked the senior nurse/nurse manager what formal psychological support, if any, was provided to parents on their NICU, and whether their unit had dedicated social work input.

Results The authors obtained information from all 50 (100%) units. Two units (4%) had dedicated clinical psychologists for their NICU who provided comprehensive support for parents and offered regular meetings and counselling sessions; a further 15 units (30%) had the support of an available clinical psychologist who provided input to both the NICU and maternity unit as required; 13 units (26%) offered some psychological support, though not from a trained psychologist (eg, offered by a trained counsellor nurse/family care nurse, a parental support group, bereavement counsellor or hospital chaplain); in 20 (40%) units no psychological support was available for parents. Regarding social work support for the NICU, 20 (40%) units had regular input from a social worker, either in terms of them joining the clinical ward round or attending a weekly psychosocial meeting. Time allocated for the dedicated social worker support ranged from a few hours per week to a full time social worker based in the unit. Five (10%) units held a weekly social ward round. The majority of NICUs (30/50; 60%) did not have either a dedicated social worker, or any regular meeting between nurses/doctors and social worker to discuss the social needs of parents/families.

Conclusion Some NICUs offer parents excellent psychological support, while many other NICUs offer parents no formal psychological support whatsoever. The psychological and social needs of many parents with babies on UK neonatal units are presently not being addressed, and this may have adverse long-term consequences for infants and their families.

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