Category Archives: 2021

Temporary Suspension of Homebirth Service

Temporary Suspension of Homebirth Service

The Northern Trust confirmed that it has taken the decision to temporarily suspend bookings for its Homebirth Service.

Safety for homebirth requires the availability of skilled experienced midwifery staffing and rapid paramedic ambulance transfer facilities, when needed.

The Trust’s most recent communication with NIAS confirms that its service is currently experiencing extreme pressures due to the volume of calls and delays at Emergency Departments and that whilst all calls are triaged, there may a delay to NIAS response times and an immediate response cannot be guaranteed, although NIAS will always seek to provide the most immediate response possible to the most clinically urgent calls.

The impact of a delay in an emergency response during a homebirth could have devastating consequences. Also at present, midwifery staffing levels are challenging due to community transmission levels and staff needing to self-isolate therefore it is in the interests of the safety and wellbeing of women and their babies that this decision is being taken.

This will be reviewed on a weekly basis and the service will be reinstated as soon as it is safe to do so.

The reasons for this temporary suspension will also be discussed with women who have already booked for the Homebirth Service and they will be provided with all information for their new birthing plan.

Additional Background Information

Throughput the pandemic, Northern Trust maternity services have strived to continue to provide choice of place of birth for women using a staged approach based on the RCM/RCOG Guidance for provision of midwife-led settings and home birth in the evolving coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic guidance July 2020, when responding to emerging issues with staff absence, volume of homebirth requests and other service pressures.

As part of this guidance, the maternity service has maintained regular communication with Northern Ireland Ambulance Service (NIAS).

As per RCM/ RCOG guidance, the fact that an immediate ambulance response cannot be guaranteed now triggers the maternity service to move to temporary discontinuation of homebirth service provision in NHSCT (due to the stated condition ‘once the ambulance service is unable to support category 1 emergency calls without severe delays.’

Macmillan Professionals Excellence Awards

Our Macmillan Teams Awarded in the Prestigious Macmillan Professional Excellence Awards

The Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Team based at Antrim Area Hospital and the Northern Trust Skin Cancer Team who go above and beyond for people living with cancer have been honoured with Macmillan awards.

Both teams were awarded the Whatever It Takes Award which recognises extraordinary efforts, where individuals and teams have had to adapt, innovate, collaborate, support wellbeing initiatives, shown great resilience despite distressing situations and lead with compassion.

Their colleagues in the Northern Trust, the Cancer and Palliative Wellbeing Team, were also named as finalists in the Integration Excellence category. This category recognises individuals and teams who have improved the coordination of services and enabled integration across settings or through digital services to provide a seamless experience for people living with cancer. The team’s programmes included Look Good Feel Better (LGFB) pamper sessions, Fatigue Management workshops and Health & Wellbeing events (H&WB) which were all adapted to virtual resources due to COVID-19, therefore empowering patients to access support services virtually to overcome any challenges they may face.

The annual awards recognise the incredible work of Macmillan professionals across the UK and the Northern Trust teams, who were the only trust across the UK to have three finalists in the awards, were nominated by colleagues for their dedication to supporting people living with cancer in the local area.

From the outset of the pandemic, the Macmillan Specialist Palliative Care Team in the Northern Trust have shown compassion, leadership and remarkable resilience whilst striving to improve end-of-life services for patients and their families.

The team worked hard to ensure patient care was never compromised, with staff developing creative ways to provide comfort and reassurance to patients and families who struggled with restricted visiting. Staff changing rooms were quickly transformed into meeting areas for patients with young children, and a gazebo was erected to facilitate socially distanced visits outside.

“The team were remarkable,” says Macmillan Service Lead for Palliative Care, Sally Convery. “At a time of great uncertainty, they ensured patients were at the heart of everything they did by skilfully identifying their needs and the needs of those important to them. This team has shown an outstanding level of human kindness to patients, relatives and each other.”

Prior to the Covid pandemic, the Northern Trust’s Skin Cancer Team had spent five years developing an innovative service that delivered a range of holistic support to their patients. The team ran nine face-to-face nurse-led clinics each week across a large geographical area, so when the pandemic began, they had to act quickly to adapt the service to a more virtual offering.

The Skin Cancer Team showed tremendous resilience in the face of many challenges to develop effective new ways of working.

“The vast majority of our patients were isolating, and they were lonely,” explains Michelle. “The telephone clinic calls weren’t just about skin cancer. For them, the fact that somebody was there for them and phoning them was invaluable at that time.”

Head of Partnerships for Macmillan in Northern Ireland, Janice Preston said, “The Macmillan Excellence Awards are an annual opportunity to show our appreciation for Macmillan professionals, who work tirelessly day in day out to make a real difference for people with cancer.

“This year that work has been more vital than ever, due to the challenges that the coronavirus pandemic has brought. We are incredibly proud of and all our professionals, and their continued commitment to going above and beyond in their work.

“Both the Specialist Palliative Care Team and the Skin Cancer Team demonstrated a hugely dynamic response to the pandemic. They both identified the needs of their patients and relatives as well as their own colleagues and made sure that they were supported throughout.”

Macmillan’s prestigious and independent awards highlight excellence across the UK and the impact of Macmillan professionals and teams who have done whatever it takes to support people living with cancer.

The awards allow Macmillan to celebrate the professionals’ unique spirit by showcasing not just what Macmillan professionals do, but how they do it.

For support, information or a chat, call Macmillan Cancer Support free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm) or visit

Maternity Visiting

An open letter from our Midwives

From 29 July visiting arrangements for our maternity services changed across the Northern Trust.

Nearly 4,000 babies are born every year within the Northern Trust, and as Midwives it is our priority to keep you and your baby safe, so we must follow the guidance.

A chosen birth partner will be able to join when active labour is established. This is when the cervix is beginning to dilate and mum is experiencing strong moderate contractions. Birth partners can accompany for the duration of labour and birth (including caesarean section) and, for up to three hours after the birth.

Every mum and baby’s experience is different so we will assess on each individual case, but if you have any special requirements please speak to the Midwife in charge.

We do understand your frustrations with larger gatherings taking place in other settings, and many ask “what is the difference?” The difference is, within our setting we are surrounded by the most vulnerable people in our community, including our pregnant women and their babies.

The health of you and your baby is our priority and we need to keep you safe. We too would love nothing more than to see maternity services return to how they once were pre-covid times. We love welcoming families into the unit to meet their new bundle of joy, however we should not be verbally abused for continuing to keep you safe. Please help us get through these challenging times.

Read the full maternity visiting and outpatients guidance

Macmillan 10 Anniversary Celebration

Macmillan Cancer Unit Reflect on their 10th Anniversary

Northern Ireland’s only inpatient Macmillan Unit acknowledges having helped thousands of people on their milestone 10th Anniversary.

The unique Macmillan Unit based on the Antrim Area Hospital site opened its doors to the community in 2011 offering specialist palliative care support for adults with life limiting illnesses at advanced stages, such as cancer, respiratory, heart or renal conditions, motor neurone disease and dementia.

Over the past decade, the multidisciplinary Specialist Palliative Care team, alongside many amazing Macmillan volunteers have provided essential support to over thousands of patients and their families in Northern Ireland, as they cope with the many emotional and physical changes that come with a lift limiting illness.

Since 2011, the innovative unit in Antrim has provided an inpatient facility with spacious accommodation to care for 12 adult inpatients. Providing a holistic care approach, each bedroom is equipped with a pull down bed enabling family members to stay overnight with their loved one. Including a day room, access to outdoor garden areas, a quiet room for reflection, meditation or prayer and a relative’s overnight room, to help provide the best quality of life to all patients for the remainder of time they have left.

Many local families have availed of the crucial support at the Macmillan Unit, such as Christine from Maghera whose husband Hugh was cared for in in the Macmillan unit said; “Thank you so much for your dedicated care for Hugh during his last days. He was comforted so much by being in such a caring environment and it made his last days so much more bearable. He, and us as his family, appreciated everything you all did for him. He even got to share his jokes with your staff and this kept his spirits up. You all do a wonderful job with such grace and patience. Words are not enough to say thank you”

Olivia from Ballyclare whose Grandad Samuel passed away in the unit expressed her thanks to the team; “I cannot put into words how grateful I and the rest of the family are for your exceptional care and kindness given to our Granda and our family. Thank you for having such beautiful kind souls and for doing the difficult job you do. A dignified death is so important and you all made that possible for Granda.”

Margaret from Antrim who passed away in the Macmillan Unit, wife to David and aunt to Michelle, shared their experience during this time; “Words could never express the indebtedness we owe to each and every member of staff who cared for Margaret. The love, care and compassion shown was truly outstanding”

Roy Hamill, Northern Trust Divisional Director of Community Care said: “It is not only overwhelming, but very rewarding to reflect on the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who have utilised this service during the past decade. Having been present in the Macmillan Unit I have seen first-hand the dedication of staff and volunteers and I am immensely proud of all that they have achieved, it is clear they have touched the lives of many.

“It is a privilege to have the only inpatient Macmillan Unit facility in Northern Ireland on our Antrim Hospital Site. Over the past 10 years strong foundations have been built to deliver specialist palliative care services on our doorstep, and there has been a huge amount of development to date. I believe we can nurture and spread the culture of working in partnership to meet the increasing demand of palliative care services within the Northern Trust.

“The past year in particular has been the most challenging for our health and social care professionals and patients. I want to express a huge thank you to the staff for their commitment and dedication in continuing to care for patients and to support their families throughout their journey.”

Janice Preston, Head of Partnerships for Macmillan Cancer Support in Northern Ireland said, “It is a privilege to congratulate the team at the Macmillan Unit on delivering 10 years of care and comfort to patients and families in the local community. I would also like to thank the wonderful fundraisers and volunteers who have and continue to support the Unit.

“When Macmillan and the Northern Trust developed the Unit 10 years ago, we wanted to ensure that people living with cancer had dignity, support and choice at the end of their lives. We know from the kind words of patients and families over the years how much the care they have received from staff and volunteers has meant to them.

“The last year has been challenging for us all so it’s even more important that we pause and reflect on this important milestone.”

More information about the Macmillan Unit and palliative care services provided can be found on

Antrim Area Hospital Front Entrance

Dropping off/picking up patient property while in hospital

Due to a significant reduction of patients in our hospitals with COVID-19, the decision has been made to stand down the following services from Monday 14 June 2021.

The Drop off / Pick Up of patient property – currently operational between 4:00pm – 8:00pm daily within Antrim Area Hospital and Causeway Hospital, Coleraine.

The Family Liaison Service – currently supporting families in wards A1, A3, C3 in Antrim Area Hospital and Medical Assessment Unit and Medical 2 in Causeway Hospital.

Should circumstances change in the coming weeks or months, this decision will be reviewed as required.

For those families who are still not permitted to visit their loved ones, please bring belongings to the ward entrance, where they can be exchanged by ward staff.

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week

Infant Mental Health Awareness Week 2021

Stronger from the Start

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust highlights the mental health of the smallest and youngest in our society during Infant Mental Health Awareness Week (IMHAW) taking place from 7-13 June 2021.

Public Health Nursing Teams are supporting this year’s campaign theme ‘Including Infants’ to help raise awareness by encouraging everyone to think about infant, children and young people’s mental health and consider how babies mental health needs can be met.

Infant mental health refers to the social and emotional wellbeing and development of children in the earliest years of life. From pregnancy until the age of three, children’s brains are growing at the fastest possible rate and the way we interact with them every day shapes their brain development.

As a parent or caregiver, giving babies a sense of security and belonging is an early sign of positive infant mental health.   Loving, nurturing, responsive relationships provide young children with a sense of comfort, safety and confidence and lays a foundation for lifelong mental and physical health.

Babies’ emotional wellbeing influences how they experience, manage and express emotions. Parents’ responses shape their learning and as adults we can offer physical touch and comfort, calm tone of voice, eye contact, smiles, repeated words, and praise. When we respond positively and meet their needs, babies develop trust, attachment, and confidence in us as caregivers.

We recognise how the global pandemic has affected parents, babies and services that support them in diverse ways. A recent report ‘Babies in Lockdown’ found that one quarter (25%) of parents reported concerns about their relationship with their baby and one third of these (35%) would like to get help with this. Nearly 7 in 10 parents felt the changes brought about by COVID-19 were affecting their unborn baby, baby or young child with an increase in crying, tantrums and becoming more clingy.

Susan Gault, Head of Public Health Nursing, Northern Trust said, ‘During the pandemic, more than 5,000 babies were born in the Northern Health Trust since the spring lockdown in March last year.

“Throughout COVID-19 our health visitors have continued to support babies and their families by playing a vital role in ensuring that every child gets the best possible start in life. They can understand first-hand the impact COVID-19 restrictions has had on new babies, parents and caregivers – from giving birth alone, to being isolated from support networks of family and friends.

“Within the Northern Trust area families have access to specialised tailored support from pregnancy until their children attend school, to help support child development and encourage a close special bond between baby and parent such as Breastfeeding support groups, Star Babies for first time parents, Baby and Me groups, Family Nurse Partnership, Virtual infant massage and adult mental health support.”

More advice and information on local services to meet your needs at:

More Resources:

Northern Trust publishes rebuilding plan for health and social care

Health Minister Robin Swann has detailed his ambitions for the re-building of Northern Ireland’s health service, while stressing the need for sustained investment to deliver the plans.

In a keynote statement to the Assembly, the Minister said: “I am absolutely determined to put this right. But as I will argue today, I cannot do this alone. I need the support of this House and my Executive colleagues if we are to address our absolutely dire waiting lists.”

Mr Swann informed MLAs that detailed plans are being finalised on both waiting times and cancer care. These will shortly be issued for public consultation, as will a review of urgent and emergency care.

Today also sees the publication of the latest Trust rebuilding plans for health and social care, covering the period April to June.

The Minister said: “To address this burning issue, I will in the near future be publishing for consultation a cancer recovery plan, an elective care framework and the urgent and emergency care review.

Trust rebuilding plans include elective (planned) care being prioritised regionally.

Mr Swann told MLAs elective surgery will be prioritised in line with greatest clinical need, and will not be dependent on a patient’s postcode.

Full details are available in the Department of Health news release.

Read the Northern Trust Rebuild Plan April To June 2021 and  Data Annex (Activity Projections).



Minister Meets Staff At The Vaccination Centre In Ballymena

Health Minister thanks vaccine teams

Health Minister Robin Swann has thanked vaccine teams after surpassing the one million vaccines milestone.

Speaking on a visit to the vaccination centre at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre in Ballymena, the Health Minister said: “The success of our vaccination programme is down to the hard work and dedication of the health care teams and volunteers working in GP practices, pharmacies and vaccination centres right across Northern Ireland. It is testament to them that we surpassed the one million vaccines milestone at the weekend and over 820,000 people in Northern Ireland have now received a vaccine.”

“Every jab takes us further down the pathway towards a better and safer future and I would call on people to get the vaccine when their turn comes, or if you fall into one of the eligible cohorts then book your appointment today. Do not delay. Having received my first COVID-19 vaccine I can assure people that it was a quick and straightforward process and I’m grateful that I’ll soon have some protection from this awful virus while I await my second dose in due course.”

Since opening its doors in December 2020, the vaccination centre has administered 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Jennifer Welsh, Chief Executive of the Northern Health and Social Care Trust said: “I would like to pay tribute to the team at the Seven Towers Leisure Centre and our mobile vaccination team which is operating across the Trust. It’s a huge team effort to run a programme like this and everyone has played their part. They have shown extraordinary commitment and dedication over the course of the past four months and have played a crucial role in the fight against this virus. I know that it’s a great sense of relief for people to receive their vaccine and I’m very proud of our staff and what they have achieved to date.”

“This has been an exceptionally tough year for our health service but the vaccine provides hope for the days ahead.”

Exciting opportunities in Perioperative Nursing

The Health and Social Care Service in Northern Ireland is recruiting to Perioperative Nursing roles in the specialist areas of anaesthetics, surgery and post anaesthetic care units (Recovery).

Why not think about joining the team!

These are exciting opportunities with training, development and a career pathway designed to support you.

Read more in our Perioperative Nursing E-brochure at

Apply at: NHSCT Theatre Nurse Band 5 (Theatres and Day Surgery)

Hear from Stacey McKnight, Clinical Sister in Theatres at Antrim Area Hospital.

Maria Scullion, Theatre Nurse, Causeway Hospital

My name is Maria Scullion and I have worked in theatres for 7 years. I really enjoy that theatre nursing is so varied. The job is all about teamwork and supporting each other. There is so much to learn which keeps me motivated and driven. Our team is made up of all grades of staff, from nursing assistants, ATO’s, medical students and consultants. We all learn from each other and have fun in the process. We work closely with other multidisciplinary teams such as Emergency Department staff, Intensive Care Unit and Maternity, which forms good working relationships in Causeway Hospital in Coleraine.

Maria Scullion, Theatre Nurse, Causeway Hospital

Student Nurses, Theatres, Antrim Area Hospital

We have had 14 weeks placement experience in Antrim Area Hospital Theatres. We feel we have developed our skills, communication and knowledge within this interdisciplinary team setting.  All members of staff in both theatres and recovery have been an outstanding support for our learning and progression during this challenging time, as coming to theatres during the COVID-19 pandemic was initially overwhelming. However, we have really enjoyed and valued our experience here and the skills and qualities we have gained here will continue to carry these throughout our nursing careers.

Cara Johnston and Cheyene Wilson,  Antrim Area Hospital Theatres

Student Nurses Cara Johnston and Cheyene Wilson

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