A unique unit, set up to help women in Wales who experience mental illness during pregnancy and following the birth of their child, has celebrated its first birthday.
Uned Gobaith (Unit of Hope), located in the grounds of Tonna Hospital in Neath, marked a highly successful first 12 months with a visit from the Welsh Government’s Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle.
The unit, which although overseen by Swansea Bay University Health Board accepts women from across Wales, was very much needed as previously mothers were admitted to acute mental health wards without their babies, or had to travel to one of the specialist mother and baby units in England.
The mother and baby unit (MBU) is able to care for women - admitted while between 32 weeks of pregnancy and up to 12 months following birth - who experience a wide range of mental illness including postpartum psychosis, depression, anxiety and OCD.
Designed to be a home away from home, where mums have access to specialist care for themselves and their babies, it has six individual bedrooms for women and their little ones.
Mums who are admitted also have access to a shared living room and kitchen area along with a playroom, quiet room, sensory room and courtyard garden.
In addition, accommodation is available for family members travelling from further away to visit their loved ones.
Deputy Minister for Mental Health and Wellbeing, Lynne Neagle (pictured above centre in the unit’s courtyard with Sue Tranka, Chief Nursing Officer for Wales, to her left), said: “The team at Uned Gobaith have created a fantastic environment for mothers and their babies and you can see how in just its first year, the huge difference it has made for the families that have been supported.”
Hazel Powell, Swansea Bay’s Deputy Director of Nursing and Patient Experience, said: “The whole perinatal mental health service and team has done an amazing job during a very busy first year and I would like to thank them all on behalf of the health board. We are immensely proud of what the mother and baby unit has achieved in its first year.
“The difference this unit is making to the mums, dads, babies and families who use it is immeasurable. Getting the support right for mums and families during an episode of perinatal mental illness is so important, enabling mums and babies to stay together can aid recovery and bonding.”
Ward manger, Kirsten Pearce (left), was heavily involved in the planning and development of the unit.
She said: “It’s been a huge journey for me professionally and personally, seeing something that I had seen a need for in the past actually coming to fruition.
“The whole journey from creating a staff team, the paperwork theservice, facilitating, the induction for the staff and then the opening of the unit – it’s been an incredible journey.”
Kirsten previously worked in the community perinatal mental health team, which gave her an insight into how much the service was needed.
She said: “Prior to Uned Gobaith, women were separated from their families, had to travel miles and miles, and in many cases this prevented regular contact with their families.
“Now, although for some families there may still be distances involved, the feedback we have from families seems to reflect that having a MBU service located in South Wales makes things much more manageable.
“It’s also more accessible for professionals from other services to visit patients here rather than having to travel over the border.
“The feedback we’ve had from perinatal mental health services across Wales has been great. It’s made a huge difference.”
Kirsten said that hearing positive feedback was the best part of her job.
She said: “We feel really lucky to have received such positive feedback from women and families. On a number of occasions women have reflected that their admission to Uned Gobaith, and the care they accessed, has felt lifesaving. That is a really powerful thing to hear.”
Kirsten added that they aim to support the whole family unit including partners and wider family where possible.
She said: “Recently the partner of a mother who had been cared for at the unit expressed a wish to engage in peer support and mentoring for other fathers experiencing similar situations to share their positive experience and help instil hope to others. That’s incredibly powerful to be a part of and it’s really rewarding.”
Supporting the mothers and their babies on site is a multidisciplinary team that includes psychologists, mental health nurses, psychiatrists and nursery nurses as well as social workers, health visitors and midwives.
Anita Louise Rees, service manager, (right) said: “We’re incredibly fortunate to have a group of highly skilled and compassionate professionals making up the team, joining us from a wide range of professional backgrounds.
“I am extremely proud of the way the team has come together and is approaching the ongoing development of the service, ensuring that the needs of women, infants and their families are kept at the forefront of everything we do at Uned Gobaith.”
Anita said the priority over the last 12 months had been developing effective and collaborative relationships with specialist community perinatal teams across Wales – to support patients as they transition between community and hospital based specialist care.
She said: “This was a particular challenge during COVID, but the team, and our colleagues in the wider community, have been able to utilise all available forms of communication and technology to ensure we are working collaboratively in meeting the needs of the women and families across the region.”
She added that the feedback received from women and families accessing the service had been very positive.
“The response to Uned Gobaith opening has been overwhelmingly positive and we are extremely grateful to have been so well received by women and families and the wider perinatal community.”
Patients, past and present, are central to the design and development of the unit.
“We are especially grateful for the significant contributions from women and families with lived experience during the design and planning stage which helped us to really consider priorities for the environment and recruitment of the staff team,” Anita added.
“Particular recognition must of course go to the women and families who have entrusted us with their care over the last 12 months during their time here. Their valuable feedback is helping us to further develop the service as we move into the second year of Uned Gobaith, and beyond.”
Ann-Marie Thomas (left), a perinatal mental health specialist midwife, links maternity services with the perinatal team at the mother and baby unit.
She said: “If we have women admitted to the ward who are early postnatal then I can deliver the clinical care and make sure they are recovering after their birth.
“If they are antenatal I do lots of preparation and link in with our medical team and our midwives in the unit to make sure they have that seamless journey when they birth their baby.
“Continuity is so important for women in general but I think for women who have mental health needs it’s even more important – they don’t have to keep telling their story and the person looking after them understands their backstory and all their care and treatment plans.
“The unit is making a massive amount of difference. As a community midwife, before we had this unit, I had to watch some of the women I was looking after go over to England to access the care. We were taking them away from their existing support network. So I know that this had had a massive impact for them here in Wales.”
Zoe Price (below), a perinatal nursery nurse, has been at the unit from the start.
She said: “The facilities here are beautiful, very welcoming. It’s a friendly environment with team support – you always have the team rooting for you to support these mums from the moment they walk through the door.
“And it’s not just mums and babies, you have got to think about the other family members who are involved as well because it’s a part of the journey for all of them to go through.
“The best part of my job is seeing the journey that mum and infant and family make – you may have some mums who come in and don’t want to say a word to you, yet when they leave they’ve got an amazing positive relationship with their baby. You’ve got a great insight into how far they’ve come.
“Seeing a mum sing to her baby when at one point she wasn’t able to look at the baby. Seeing that bond grow, knowing that you have helped set a family on their way with strategies that they can put in place and use out in the community, makes it all worthwhile.”
Charlotte Ile (below), a charge nurse, said that an important part of the team’s job was to “cheer the mums on and instil that belief that they will get better”.
She said: “We are so lucky to have this facility and I am so proud to work here. Most people go to work just because they have got to pay the bills but I come here because I love to support our women, I love our team. To me, personally, it’s more than a job. It’s ensuring I go home at night and that each mum has had the best care that I can possibly give. It’s such a unique place to work.
“Seeing the difference when one of our mums leave, their recovery and seeing the person who they are, rather than being attached to the mental state when they come in, absolutely fills your heart and makes you burst. There’s no feeling like it.”
Toni Evans, who is one such mum who had to cross the border for treatment, was consulted at the planning stage of Uned Gobaith.
She said: “There’s lots of different illnesses which can affect mums, such as anxiety. There’s lots of different reasons why they could need to go into the unit. During pregnancy I suffered from depression and I think if this unit had been open at the time I would have definitely come here.
“Once I gave birth the depression got worse, which is why I ended up in a mother and baby unit in Derby. It was extremely difficult. At the time I felt a lot of guilt for my husband because I had taken myself and his new baby away from him. He had to look after my son, go to work and come to Derby to visit me every other weekend.”
Toni, who has since recovered and is at university studying mental health nursing, was on hand to help mark the anniversary.
Of the new unit she said: “A mother and baby unit is there to help mums and help their babies, and to make sure that it is a home from home experience, being on a mixed acute ward is nothing like that.
“I think Uned Gobaith is absolutely fantastic. It’s honestly so good.
“Derby was great but here, having the cooking facilities and stuff like that for the mothers, is going to make a huge difference because they will have that home from home experience.”
Uned Gobaith was commissioned by the Welsh Health Specialised Services Committee, and made possible thanks to Welsh Government funding and support from mental health specialists in community and inpatient care.