On Tuesday 2 July 2019, Kym Provan, Partner and head of the Southampton clinical negligence team here at Blake Morgan, attended an informative evening put together by the University Hospital Southampton Members’ Team. The focus of the discussion and presentations on this occasion was some of the specialist paediatric services provided by the Trust.
Francesca Stedman, Consultant paediatric surgeon and Kate Pryde, Paediatric Consultant, spoke about the proven benefits that a motivated and happy work force have on the welfare of the patients that they care for, as well as the positive impact that this clearly has on the staff. They described how they had been instrumental in bringing more “Joy in Work” to Southampton’s paediatric unit. Details were given of a number of simple steps that had been taken to focus on the positive aspects of working within the paediatric department at UHS, and to providing small improvements to the work environment. Collectively these have had quite a significant impact on the overall level of job satisfaction for the staff, with patients and their families also contributing to initiatives such the “Star Wall”.
Following this the Members heard from Joyce Stebbings, youth and play manager, who was accompanied by Archie, one of the paediatric therapy dogs, and his volunteer handler. Joyce described how the team of golden retriever therapy dogs have been working within the Southampton paediatric unit with huge success, helping children to overcome anxiety, and helping their siblings learn to cope with the significant disruption that having an acutely ill brother or sister can bring. We watched a video of one of the therapy dogs “having” an MRI scan, saw pictures of another who had nasal oxygen prongs “fitted” to encourage another young patient to do the same, and heard how the dogs send cards on to children who have to be moved to another hospital for a period of time, to remind them that their canine friends are thinking of them, all with extremely positive effect.
Finally, and perhaps of greatest relevance to Kym’s work, the Members were fortunate enough to hear from Brigitte Vollmer, paediatric neurologist at the Trust, who is currently working on a number of research projects with the University of Southampton, investigating the prevalence, treatment efficacy and long term effects of HIE (hypoxic ischaemic encephalopathy) in newborn babies. HIE is a condition that can lead to significant brain damage, or even death, in babies whose brains are deprived of oxygen and blood flow for a period of time around birth. This can be due to many factors such as infection, placental problems, compression of the umbilical cord, preeclampsia and premature labour. Sometimes the precise cause of HIE is unknown. The Princess Anne Hospital, which forms part of UHS, is a regional centre for hypothermic cooling of newborn babies who have suffered HIE at or around the time of birth. This has been clearly shown to significantly improve the chances of survival in babies who have developed HIE and to reduce the prospects of them suffering from significant long term brain damage.
Dr Vollmer explained how the spectrum of problems arising from HIE in babies who survive, can range from cerebral palsy, affecting motor function, through to reduced cognitive ability and behavioural problems in later life. How a child will ultimately be affected though, is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to predict in infancy. She discussed a present study that is being undertaken at the University, in collaboration with patients and their families who have been treated at Princess Anne Hospital, using advanced MRI techniques to examine the structures of the brain that may have been damaged during the period of acute HIE, to see if this can in the future help to better predict the longer term outcome for the children concerned. The hope is that the earlier that potential problems can be identified, the earlier support systems can be put in place to ameliorate the difficulties that the child may face as best as possible.
As part of Kym’s work as a highly experienced clinical negligence solicitor specialising in catastrophic injury cases, she works closely with families whose children have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a consequence of mismanagement of their care during delivery or the neonatal period. She knows that a very big factor for these parents is the fear of the unknown and the inability to predict their child’s future needs, capabilities and potential. Research that leads to these issues being identified quantified at least to some degree, at an earlier age, means that parents, families and the care professionals involved with the child, can try to ensure that the appropriate support and assistance is in place at the earliest possible opportunity to maximise the child’s future potential.
All in all, the evening was extremely informative and interesting, giving an insight into some of the more specialist projects that are underway at Southampton’s Children’s Hospital. Kym has attended a number of these evenings previously and looks forward to attending further meetings in the future. UHS provides regular talks throughout the year about the wide variety of work undertaken by the Trust, which are free to attend to Members and other interested members of the public.
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