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Mental health central to new midwifery degree

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Published on 19 August 2022

Transforming midwifery education – PCPI’s work closely with the midwifery lecturers and students (L-R) Linda McNamee, Helen McAdam, Rachel Denby, Susan Mountain, Bronwen Howard and Terri White
Transforming midwifery education – PCPI’s work closely with the midwifery lecturers and students (L-R) Linda McNamee, Helen McAdam, Rachel Denby, Susan Mountain, Bronwen Howard and Terri White

The University of Sunderland will welcome its first students to the new Midwifery Suite in September, which further enhances Sunderland’s range of healthcare programmes now provided on campus, from medicine, healthcare sciences, paramedic practice and nursing to physiotherapy and occupational therapy.

Responding to a national shortage of full-time midwives in the NHS, successful completion of the BSc (Hons) Midwifery Practice three-year undergraduate degree, graduating students will be able to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC) and practice as a midwife.

The programme has also been designed to address challenges specifically around perinatal mental health. With increasing knowledge of mental health and emotional wellbeing in relation to pregnancy, birth and the postnatal period, the programme recognises that this is of growing importance to maternity care and the emotional and social wellbeing in babies and toddlers. 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 regarding mental health, therefore building a greater understanding and ability to support the patient in the workforce. 

“Midwives with a greater perinatal mental health knowledge produced through this programme can bring people together to improve the quality, consistency, and co-ordination of care. They can help to ensure that vital information about women and their families is shared effectively and that women with mental illnesses receive high-quality coordinated support. Acting as the ‘glue’ within the integrated care community to pull necessary services together.”

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 Midwifery Suite has been established with the help of £1.8m in funding from Health Education England, the Catherine Cookson Charitable Trust and NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group.

Featuring the latest equipment in maternity care, which will take students from ante-natal care and childbirth, through to post-natal support, the Midwifery Suite reflects how mothers are choosing their care. 

There are state-of-the-art delivery suites, including a birthing pool, a maternal and fetal 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 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, one that is fully educated to the required NMC standards but has a detailed understanding of the mental health needs and requirements of individuals who are 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. Our educational focus will be of the highest standards in perinatal mental health, human rights, emergency maternity care, public health and Unicef UK Baby Friendly Initiative.”

The first intake of students will be a small cohort. Due to the shortage of midwives both within the north-east and nationally, it is anticipated that this will increase to a minimum of 35 students per annum.

The BSc (Hons) Midwifery Practice three-year undergraduate degree and a Registered Midwife Degree have been designed to meet the NMC Standards for Pre-Registration Midwifery Programmes.

For more information about the programme, click here

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