National Friendly speaks with the Southmead Hospital Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, Director of Nursing and Quality, Paul Mannix


Hosted by Southmead Hospital Charity, National Friendly were invited to the very first HospiTOUR event which took place in the state-of-the-art Brunel Building and the surrounding sites. National Friendly got the chance to find out more about their ambitious plans for the future and how our fundraising can help them to transform patient treatment and care in the South West.

For those who may be unaware – can you provide us with some dialogue regarding what takes place within the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU)?

NICU is a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit and it cares for those babies who have been born needing intensive medical and nursing care. This can be for a variety of reasons. Many of the babies are those who have been born too early, some as much as 17 weeks early (23 weeks gestation). Some of the babies are born having had difficulty around the time of birth and require specialist care particularly to prevent or limit any brain damage. We provide this facility not only to babies whose mum’s have booked for their care at Southmead but also to babies form the whole of the South West (Truro to Gloucester and over to Swindon). Thankfully most of the babies we have on the unit are babies born just a little too early who are not ready to breastfeed yet, and some are not too good at remembering to breathe so need some help with that for a short while.  Some babies born at the normal time come to us for specialist care because of treatments their mums have needed that could make the blood sugar level low or mean the baby is still a little too small.

Most of our babies only spend a few days with us, but some can stay for several weeks and a small number for many months. 

Whilst on the unit parents can be supported by our brilliant nurses to be confident in handling their very small baby, to help with getting the babies to feed and to help with the normal development of their baby. We also have dieticians, physiotherapists and speech and language therapists all of whom are vital in helping us nurture the particularly early babies through this time.

Our Community Outreach Team allow us to get these babies home as soon as possible with the outreach team supporting the parents at home.


Can you detail the ongoing working relationship between the NICU and Southmead Hospital Charity? 

The Southmead Hospital Charity play a really important role for us in supporting us to buy things that we are not easily able to get directly from NHS funding.

This can be from small pieces of vital medical equipment through to support in getting accommodation for the parents. As I have said, some of these babies are with us for a very long time and some of the parents are not Bristol-based, so having accommodation near to hand is fantastic and Southmead Hospital Charity were instrumental in setting up NICU House for us on Southmead Road. 

They will also support us in buying comfortable chairs for parents to sit in by their baby – particularly important for mums if they are trying to express breast milk for their baby.

They are working with us to improve our current facilities, with greater ambitions for the future.

What are the challenges you face as a consultant working in the NICU, and how can we help support those challenges?

I’m very fortunate to work as a consultant in NICU at Southmead. We have a brilliant team of staff with everyone doing their bit to ensure we have the great outcomes for our babies. That’s not just the doctors and nurses but the admin staff, the cleaning staff, the housekeepers, the porters – everyone. The challenge we have is making the best of our present facilities. They are old and not as practical as we would like. The sort of help we need is in trying to work out how to develop our services but continue to keep our present facilities fit for purpose. That needs equipment updates, staff training and parents support. The charitable links we have can help with all of these challenges and we are so grateful for the support you provide to us.

Can you outline what support the NICU provide for the families who give birth to children in the NICU?

Having a baby on a NICU is one of the most difficult and scary things for parents. The plans they had made for after the birth are all lost and if the baby is very premature or very ill there is a sense of uselessness as a parent. The support we get from charitable support helps us to be able to provide the parents with practical support to help them cope with the anxiety, sadness and helplessness I describe. This is from providing books they can read to their baby, to the comfy chairs they sit on, to having nicely decorated and furnished rooms on NICU and of course the NICU House they have funded for us down on Southmead Road. 

What impact will our contribution have on the families with children being born in the NICU?

I think sometimes the acts of kindness we are able to provide with the help of Southmead Hospital Charity is almost immeasurable. Ensuring the parents are well cared for makes them much more able to care for their baby and to remain strong whilst their baby is undergoing intensive care. I know from my years of working as a consultant that although parents say thank you for the medical and nursing care they know their baby received, it is very often the ‘extra’ things provided which they mark out as making the difference. It’s all these small extra things that add up to an enormous contribution to how our babies and parents survive and look back at their NICU experience. I would say it’s vital.

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