Mental health workers highlight benefits of working with mothers and babies

PUBLISHED: 14:17 16 May 2018 | UPDATED: 14:25 16 May 2018

Mandy Kirby (left) and Sarah Hales. Photo: NSFT

Mandy Kirby (left) and Sarah Hales. Photo: NSFT


The region’s mental health trust launched a campaign to recruit staff to run a new service providing vital support for mothers with severe mental health conditions.

Sarah Hales, a mental health practitioner working for the Norfolk and Waveney community perinatal mental health service. Photo: NSFTSarah Hales, a mental health practitioner working for the Norfolk and Waveney community perinatal mental health service. Photo: NSFT

The trust is aiming to attract a perinatal psychiatrist, a specialty doctor, ward manager, clinical support worker, assistant practitioners, specialist mental health nurses, nursery nurses, occupational therapist, social worker, outreach worker and a clinical psychologist to fill a total of around 34 whole time equivalent positions.

Sarah Hales has spent the past 10 months of her 23-year trust nursing career as a mental health practitioner working for the Norfolk and Waveney community perinatal mental health service, based in West Norfolk.

She said: “I’m really looking forward to early 2019 because that’s when an eight-bed mother and baby unit (MBU) opens at Hellesdon Hospital for new mothers with serious mental health problems.

“The most frustrating part of my job right now is when a woman needs to be admitted and I have to tell them and their families that the nearest MBU is in Chelmsford. There have even been times when the nearest available bed has been further afield, such as in Birmingham, which means that some women choose not to be admitted.

Mandy Kirby, a community perinatal mental health nurse. Photo: NSFTMandy Kirby, a community perinatal mental health nurse. Photo: NSFT

“Our unit will be one of just four across the country commissioned by NHS England and will ensure mums and their babies can stay together while the mother receives care. It will also accept women in late pregnancy who need acute psychiatric inpatient care.

“I was attracted to mental health nursing because I found the mental health element of my A level psychology interesting and my own family had experience of mental illness.

“After training in Leeds and qualifying as a mental health nurse in 1995, I’ve done many different roles at the trust. What made me join the community perinatal mental health service last July was the prospect of a new experience and working with a completely different client group. I’ve never gained so much knowledge and learnt so many new skills in such a short space of time.

“I enjoy going into the homes of the women and building a relationship with them and also working with different professions, such as the midwives at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

“When I worked for the mental health liaison service that NSFT provides at NNUH, I came to learn that there is great scope for a better understanding of mental health among staff employed by acute hospitals.

“An important part of my role is educating and training other people, including mental health colleagues like those in the crisis teams who may potentially come into contact with the same women who I am supporting.”

NSFT’s community perinatal mental health service was officially launched last September but Mandy Kirby has worked as a community perinatal mental health nurse, covering the Great Yarmouth and Waveney area, for the past four years.

She said: “I got into nursing late, qualifying at the age of 37 after my children had started school, but it was always something that I’d wanted to do. However, when I was young I lived in a very rural area and there was no public transport into Norwich, meaning I couldn’t attend a nursing course, so I did other things, such as qualifying as a hair-dresser.

“As a result of something that I experienced personally after the birth of my first child, I developed an interest in perinatal mental health nursing.

“I’ve spent my entire 10 year nursing career working for NSFT and have had a number of different roles, including working in a psychiatric intensive care unit and at Blundeston Prison, but my real passion is for perinatal mental health nursing.

“This developed through my time working with The Parent Infant Mental Health Attachment Project (PIMHAP) and working closely alongside Dr Somayya Kajee, a consultant psychiatrist who also had a specialist interest in perinatal mental health.

“Due to our passion and commitment and with support from the trust, we were able to work with pregnant women in the Yarmouth and Waveney area until a specialist team was developed.

“I work with and support mothers throughout their pregnancy and up to the point when their child is one-year-old. These women can have conditions such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, OCD and other mental illnesses.

“Having a community perinatal mental health service in Norfolk and Waveney means we’re able to provide the very specialist care which these women need to go on and enjoy a healthy, happy life with their new baby.

“The service was developed in partnership with partners across the NHS, including the maternity services at Norfolk’s three acute hospitals, Cambridgeshire Community Trust which provides health visiting services and nursery nurses, service users and the support group Get Me Out The Four Walls.

“My greatest strength is engaging with people who are difficult to engage with and building up a relationship with them. What I enjoy the most about my job is the direct patient contact. However, I’m keen to develop my skills and have been training to become a non-medical prescriber.

“I’m also involved in training colleagues who work in our recovery and crisis teams, and enjoy the multi-agency aspect of my role. I work closely with the Eden Team of specialist midwives from the James Paget Hospital, lecture to student midwives at the UEA and liaise closely with health visitors.”

To find out more about working in the service, click here.

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