Category Archives: 2023

Pregnant woman with child on her knee

Vaccines during pregnancy

The Public Health Agency is reminding pregnant women to get the whooping cough (pertussis) vaccine between 16 and 32 weeks of their pregnancy. The majority of children who are reported as having whooping cough are infants under six months of age so are too young to be protected by their routine childhood immunisations which are given at two, three, and four months of age. They can however be protected by their mother receiving the vaccination during pregnancy.

For further information on the vaccinations offered in pregnancy, please check

Joanne Currie holds her Nurse of the Year award.

Success for Northern Trust staff at Healthcare and Keyworker Awards

Three members of staff from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust were among the winners at the recent Healthcare and Keyworker Awards 2023 organised by Families First NI.

Lead Nurse for Palliative Care Joanne Currie was named Nurse of the Year, Personality Disorder Practitioner Simon Murphy won the Services in the Community award, and midwife Kirsty Deal received the Specialist Nurse award for her work on the Continuity of Midwifery Care model.

Joanne’s nomination followed her work on developing and improving palliative care services for patients and their families.

Reflecting on her role, Joanne said: “I have worked in the Trust for 23 years and have always felt supported and encouraged throughout my nursing career. I feel very privileged to work in specialist palliative care and after 23 years I still love my job. While my current role is less clinical now, I am excited to be able to assist with developing and improving palliative care services, with the overarching focus of improving quality of life of patients and that of their loved ones who are facing challenges associated with a life limiting condition.”

Simon Murphy received the Services in the Community award in recognition of his work as part of the Mentalisation Based Therapy (MBT) treatment team, providing group and one-to-one therapy for people diagnosed with a personality disorder.

The team provides assessments, consultations, treatments and reflective practice to assist families, carers and other professionals to manage their condition while Simon has also been involved in using creative arts as a recovery tool for service users, recording and performing music with them and other professionals as well.

Simon said: “The Trust has been very supportive of me in the past in several ways; primarily in helping me access a Masters course in Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Mental Health. I undertook at 20,000 word thesis focusing on the experience of staff who make referrals to specialist services in England to manage patients with severe disturbance and complex needs.

Our team always strives to keep up to date on the latest developments in psychotherapy while fostering a culture of learning that is psychoanalytically informed.

“This award comes as I mark two years since I suffered a series of strokes that required medical procedures and an extended time convalescing. I was able to gain an insight of that it was like to be a vulnerable patient at a time of uncertainty with the COVID-19 pandemic and I always try to retain a thoughtful, caring stance when helping service users who present to our service.”

Midwife Kirsty Deal, winner of the Specialist Nurse award, has worked in the Trust for over 20 years.

Reflecting on her award, she said: “I had the opportunity to be part of the team behind the first Continuity of Midwifery Care scheme in Northern Ireland.

“This has become my dream job. My role involves advocating for women and their families, educating them so they can advocate for themselves, and making choices that are right for them.

“All this is possible because the senior management in midwifery within the Trust knew this was the best way forward for maternity services and the families we meet.

“Being nominated for an award was incredibly humbling. I am so moved, but to actually win on the night was unbelievable.”

Congratulations also go to Grainne O’Boyle who was Highly Commended in the Nurse of the Year category and Deirdre Tolton, Highly Commended in the Specialist Nurse category. 



Three nurses standing outside Antrim Area Hospital holding awards.

Student Excellence Award success for newly qualified Northern Trust nurses

The achievements of three newly qualified nurses, who completed their degrees through the Open University, have been recognised by the Northern Ireland Practice and Education Council (NIPEC) for Nursing and Midwifery.

Shelley Taylor, who works within the Acute Medicine ward at Antrim Area Hospital, was recently presented with a Student Excellence Award, while Aiobhin McElroy and Gemma Harper were both highly commended.

Aiobhin is a nurse in the Direct Assessment Centre in Antrim and Gemma is a member of the Endoscopy team.

Shelley Taylor’s health and social care journey began in 2002 when she first joined the Northern Trust as a Child Health Assistant with the Public Health Nursing team.

Reflecting on her experience since then, she said:I initially completed an introductory course with the Open University which gave me a real sense of achievement so I decided to continue my studies.

“The Northern Trust and Open University partnership gave me the opportunity to further my career within healthcare by supporting me to study whilst working.

“My colleagues and the many members of staff I have met along the way have really supported me in my learning, helping me to reach my goals, and I am delighted to have received this recognition.

“Compassion and excellence are among the core values of the Northern Trust, and I have found this translates to staff, students and service users throughout the organisation, and I am now really looking forward to continuing my nursing career within the Trust.”

Aiobhin McElroy

For Aiobhin McElroy, starting as a Bank employee set her on the path to success after first planning to study nursing following secondary school: “I applied to do nursing but I didn’t pass the interview due to inadequate experience.

“I then got a bank job in treatment rooms and thoroughly enjoyed this but by then I had given up on my dream to become a nurse. I got seconded to work in the new Direct Assessment Unit and I was so nervous to start working in the hospital.

“I had no reason to worry because I instantly felt part of the team and this encouraged me to apply for a permanent Band 3 role. After a few months my manager asked me if I would consider studying nursing through the Open University and although I was apprehensive, I applied and was successful at interview.

“I am delighted to say after four years I passed my degree with First Class honours. I had given up on the idea but with the support of the Northern Trust and the Open University I was able to achieve this.

“I decided to begin my qualified nurse journey where the dream started, in the Direct Assessment Unit, and I am currently in the Preceptorship Programme. I would recommend the Open University degree to anyone who wishes to become a qualified nurse.”

Gemma Harper

Like Aiobhin, a nursing career was a long-held dream for Gemma Harper.

“I had my son at a young age, so progressing to university when I left school just wasn’t an option for me. I am so grateful to the Northern Trust and the Open University for giving me this opportunity,” she said.

After spending 12 years working in private domiciliary care, Gemma joined the Endoscopy departments at Mid-Ulster and Antrim Area hospitals in 2016 as a Health Care Assistant which reignited her passion for nursing.

“I was inspired by my colleagues and they helped me to see potential in myself by encouraging me to apply for the Open University degree

“I enjoy working within Endoscopy – it is a specialised and fast paced service and it is a pleasure to now work as a newly qualified nurse alongside the colleagues who supported me along the way.

“The help I received from the Student Support teams, tutors at the Open University and Northern Trust practice assessors and supervisors was invaluable to me, and they were always on hand whenever I had a query.

“Equally, my Practice Education Facilitator within the Mid Ulster Hospital supported my learning and helped me wherever they could. Having all my placements within the Northern Trust was great for work-life balance, and I found the diverse settings within Medical, Surgical, Community and Renal all offered invaluable training and new skills. Balancing study with a busy family life and work commitments was always a bit of a juggling act but this really helps with prioritising, thinking on your feet and organisation, all skills that will stand me well in my future career in nursing.”


Congratulating the three nurses on their success, Suzanne Pullins, Executive Director of Nursing, Midwifery and Allied Health Professionals, said: “As a Trust we are committed to developing our workforce and supporting our staff to reach their full potential.

“These achievements reflects the strength of our partnership with the Open University, and it is very encouraging for us to see Shelley, Aiobhin and Gemma’s efforts recognized in this way by NIPEC. We wish them every success as their nursing careers get underway.”

Carly Thompson, the Northern Trust’s Lead Nurse for Education, said: “Shelley, Aiobhin and Gemma have all worked very hard and we are proud to have supported them throughout their studies.”


Belinda Simpson in a classroom holding a baby doll

Roots of Empathy teaches lifelong lessons to primary school pupils

An innovative educational programme which aims to promote sharing, caring and inclusion among primary school pupils is preparing for another busy year ahead.

Under the Roots of Empathy initiative, a parent and baby are brought into the classroom every month, allowing children to observe their close relationship and the infant’s milestones. They learn to identify and reflect on their own feelings, and those of others, which provides an important grounding in social and emotional awareness which is important for the future.

First introduced in 2011, the internationally-recognised programme has continued to grow in popularity and now 38 schools are actively involved across the Northern Trust area.

Kate McDermott, Programme Co-ordinator for the Northern Trust, said: “Roots of Empathy is designed to equip pupils with the skills they need to build healthy relationships and due to early intervention work, they are able to carry these skills into adulthood. We are delighted that a further 14 schools have joined the programme this year and we look forward to sharing these important lessons with more pupils than ever before.”

The success of Roots of Empathy centres on its families and instructors like Alberta Lamont who is retiring after leading the programme in Cookstown Primary School for the past nine years.

During this time, her dedication has ensured that all children in the participating year group had an opportunity to take part and enjoy the benefits of this kind of learning.

Belinda Simpson has been involved with the programme at Ballycraigy Primary School in Antrim since 2013 and she’s now celebrating 10 years as an instructor. She recently became a local mentor for Northern Ireland (one of only four), giving her additional responsibility for supporting new instructors.

Kate added: “On behalf of the Northern Trust we would like to thank Alberta and Belinda for their dedication to teaching local children important life lessons about expressing feelings, respect, inclusion, infant development and safety, and the power of a loving bond between parent and child.

“They have both went above and beyond for Roots of Empathy, helping to make it an important part of schools’ provision for their pupils. We hope Alberta enjoys her well-deserved retirement, and we look forward to continuing to work with Belinda in her role as a local mentor, which will be hugely important to our new instructors.”

Roots of Empathy is co-ordinated and led by the Northern Trust Health Improvement Service, and is funded by the Public Health Agency.

Exterior image of Birch Hill.

Design proposals for £126m Birch Hill Centre for Mental Health launched for community consultation

The Northern Health and Social Care Trust is moving forward with plans for a £126m investment in a new Centre for Mental Health at the Antrim Area Hospital site.

 A Proposal of Application Notice (PAN) has been submitted to Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council, detailing the proposed development of a new centre at the Bush Road site.

 The proposals aim to centralise Trust inpatient Mental Health Services in modern, purpose-built accommodation, replacing the current provision at Holywell Hospital and the Ross Thomson Unit at Causeway Hospital.

 While staff within these services continue to work hard to provide high quality, compassionate assessment and treatment, the design of the existing buildings does not always support this approach. As such, services from both these sites will be relocated to the new build.

The new facilities include a low-rise building design, that will provide 134 single-occupancy ground-floor rooms for patients, giving direct access to safe outdoor space and facilitating ease of movement between departments. Links to nature and views towards the neighbouring countryside have been prioritised, to ensure the best possible environment to support recovery.

 The building design also prioritises sustainable design principles, with a target rating of ‘excellent’ under BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method).

 This should ensure the building’s performance is more energy efficient and have reduced operating costs helping deliver against net carbon zero targets and improve whole-life performance.

 Commenting on the proposals, Dr Petra Corr, the Trust’s Divisional Director of Mental Health, Learning Disability and Community Wellbeing Services said: “We are delighted to see progress with our plans and the beginning of our community consultation is a key milestone towards the delivery of modern mental health services.

 “Within the Northern Trust area and across Northern Ireland, providing high quality mental healthcare is a pressing necessity. Our proposals for a new centre for mental health at Antrim will see the Northern Trust’s enormous expertise concentrated in state-of-the-art, purpose-built surroundings, providing the best possible environment for assessment, treatment and recovery.”

 More information about the project, including a list of FAQs, is available on the consultation website


New born baby

Interim review complete on transformation of acute maternity services

An interim review of the transformation of acute maternity services in the Northern Health and Social Care Trust (NHSCT) has been completed.

It follows a recommendation by the Board of the Northern Trust, approved by the Permanent Secretary Peter May in June, that all hospital births should take place at Antrim Area Hospital.

A 14-week public consultation around the transformation was carried out between November 2022 and March 2023, after clinicians advised that the provision of maternity services at Causeway Hospital was unsustainable due to falling birth rates, workforce challenges, and the absence of a neonatal unit.

The new model came into effect on 17 July 2023.

In response to ongoing concerns from some elected representatives, campaign groups and service users, Northern Trust Chief Executive Jennifer Welsh offered to carry out an interim two-month review of the service change.

The review looked at the period from 17 July to 18 September 2023.

“The reconfiguration of our maternity services came into effect in July, and represented a significant milestone in transformation of our health and social care system at a regional level,” said NHSCT Chief Executive, Jennifer Welsh.

“Change is not always easy, and we recognise this was a very emotive issue, not just for our service users and community, but for our staff too. While it is still early days, I am really pleased at how our teams have adapted and embraced the new model. I’m also encouraged by the feedback from women in our care which has been largely very positive.

“Providing the highest standard of care to women and babies has been, and remains, our priority, and this review demonstrates that the transition to moving all hospital births to Antrim has been done safely and effectively.”

Work to provide additional capacity at Antrim’s maternity unit is complete. The service has been further enhanced to provide a day obstetric unit for scheduled appointments, and an emergency obstetric unit for unscheduled attendances 24/7.

Theatre sessions for elective Caesarean sections have also been increased and a midwifery coordinator role has been created to ensure efficient flow of activity across the service.

All 321 women who had their babies at Antrim Area Hospital in August were invited to provide feedback via a survey. To date, 52 responses have been received.

There have been no formal complaints from service users since the new model became operational.

Ms Welsh said: “While we recognise that this is a relatively small sample survey, we are reassured by the overwhelmingly positive response from those women who have shared their feedback with us.

“77% of women who responded were very satisfied or satisfied with the care they received, while less than 10% were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.

“We have considered all the feedback in detail and, where women have not felt satisfied with the care they received, we have listened, and their experience is already helping to shape our actions around quality improvement.”

The survey asked for detailed feedback on how the service could be improved with four key themes emerging:

  • perception of maternity ward being “very busy” or “short-staffed”
  • concern around delays to planned induction of labour to manage activity during busy periods
  • efficiency of outpatient clinics
  • more support for first-time mothers

Ms Welsh added: “We are committed to providing a safe and positive experience for all women in our care, their babies and their families, so having women’s feedback is vital as it provides us with meaningful insights on areas for improvement and learning.

“I would encourage anyone who is accessing our maternity services to please consider sharing your experience – good or bad – with us, via our Care Opinion platform.”

A six month review of the transition of acute maternity services will be carried out in the new year, focusing on the period since the new model becoming operational in July until mid-January 2024.

Service users can leave comments or feedback about their experience via the online Care Opinion platform

Transformation of Acute Maternity Services: Interim two-month review

HSC Logo on a blue background

Chief Executives write to Secretary of State on pay awards for staff

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing collectively as Chief Executives of Northern Ireland’s six Health and Social Care Trusts to emphasise in the strongest possible terms the need for concrete action on pay awards for our staff.

We very much welcome the dialogue you and your officials have had with HSC trade unions. However, despite these discussions, a pay offer for our staff has not yet been tabled for 2023/24.

As Chief Executives, we care deeply about our workforce. We know just how much they gave during the pandemic. We are also very conscious of the toll being taken on them by the continuing severe pressures on services.

 It is unsustainable and unfair that they should be left with a de facto pay freeze during a cost of living crisis.

This sends out entirely the wrong signal on how health and social care staff are valued by society. It should also be stressed that staff retention is becoming an increasingly acute problem for services across HSC.

 You will be aware that the 2019 health pay dispute was only resolved with the re-establishment of pay parity with England. It is hugely frustrating to see history repeating itself within four years.

 The Department of Health has explained that it is not currently feasible for it to match English pay offers for this year. Under the current budgetary settlement, this would only be possible with large scale cuts on an unprecedented scale. No one wants that option and the Department has undoubtedly been left in an impossible position.

 Please be assured that we are very mindful of the many pressures on public funding both in Northern Ireland and across the UK. It is nevertheless clear that a political intervention on additional funding is required before the pay issue can be resolved.

 As things stand, further industrial action is planned. This will inevitably impact heavily on an already fragile health and care system, in what is invariably the most challenging time of year. We have very deep concerns about impacts on patients and other service users.

 We are acutely aware that there is a heavy responsibility on us as Chief Executives to drive forward efficiency and transformation measures and make the best possible use of available resources. Reducing our unacceptably long waiting lists will require not just investment but a sustained focus on productivity. Whilst we are committed to making that happen, progress becomes immeasurably more difficult with a demoralised and depleted workforce and a sustained period of industrial action.

Consequently, we are appealing directly to you to do all in your power to find a solution to the 2023/24 pay issue. This cannot be a subsidiary issue to the work being done to restore the NI Assembly, as important as that may be.

Yours sincerely

Michael Bloomfield, Chief Executive, Northern Ireland Ambulance Service

Roisin Coulter, Chief Executive, South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust

Neil Guckian, Chief Executive, Western Health and Social Care Trust

Cathy Jack, Chief Executive, Belfast Health and Social Care Trust

Maria O’Kane, Chief Executive, Southern Health and Social Care Trust

Jennifer Welsh, Chief Executive, Northern Health and Social Care Trust

Group of physios in uniform.

Celebrating Allied Health excellence

In the Northern Health and Social Care Trust we have over 1000 registered Allied Health Professional (AHP) colleagues and 160 AHP support workers.

On Allied Health Professionals Day (October 14 2023) we want to celebrate their positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our communities.

Our Allied Health Professionals and support workers deliver across dietetics, occupational therapy, orthoptics, orthotists, paramedic education, physiotheraphy, podiatry, radiography, and speech and language therapy.

Offering her thoughts ahead of AHPs’ Day, Jill Bradley, Assistant Director and AHP Governance Lead, said: “On Allied Health Professionals Day I want to say how proud I am proud to work with the fabulous AHP teams within the Northern Trust.

“Allied Health Professionals deliver the right skills at the right time, supporting people to rehabilitate and live well within their communities and homes.  Our Northern Trust AHPs demonstrate innovation and excellence in practice which is nationally and regionally recognised.  More importantly, feedback we receive from our service users via Care Opinion demonstrates the transformative impact AHPs make to the lives of many people in the Northern Trust area.  I am immensely proud of our AHP teams and the positive difference they make to the health and wellbeing of people in our communities.”

“I would encourage others to use this global awareness raising campaign to learn more about the skills of our AHPs and the role they play in enhancing health and social care at all life stages.”

Jill Bradley and AHPs' Day logo.

Care Opinion

Care Opinion allows members of the public to tell their stories about their health care experiences.

As part of Allied Health Professionals Day in the Northern Trust we want to share some of these experiences with you to help raise awareness about the excellent care provided by our AHPs.

Occupational Therapy

“I did not realise how much and how important the role is of the Occupational Therapists is, in helping me to prepare for my journey home.”

The OT sensory workshop was “excellent and informative with well presented information with lots of practical tips”.

“From the moment we met our OT she was kind, professional and attentive to (our child’s) needs. Our appointment was a positive experience and OT’s follow up with a sensory diet was prompt.”

“I was referred to the Condition Management Programme after battling PTSD due to health and personal reasons. I had the most wonderful OT called Kelly who was fantastic and made me feel at ease and that the feelings I had were all normal, (and) she would help me to cope with them. I was referred on to pain management and Occupational Therapy. I honestly highly recommend this programme for anyone who is battling with health issues or life in general.”


“My mum will always live with double vision now and subsequently for the past 6 weeks we have had multiple appointments. I would like to thank her Orthoptist in Magherafelt who took time to listen to mum’s concerns and recognised she didn’t fully understand the severity of her diagnosis. He talked to her in a way she understood and brought humour into the assessment.”


“My physio was very understanding. Helped a lot with balance issues and was extremely helpful.”

“I was very pleased to attend the physio / lymphoedema clinic at Ballymena. My physio was very professional and skilled in his work. He ordered me Comfiwave support stockings which help with the oedema. I feel that I had very beneficial appointment and I wanted to convey my thanks.”


“Podiatry staff have been outstanding in every way. The service they give is world beating. I would like you to know just how good they are, and have been to me, During the worst time of my life. They made a difference.”

Group of podiatrists in uniform.


“On the day all checks were performed, the scan itself took only minutes, and then I was shown the exit door. I consider this service second to none.”

Two radiographers with a patient at a scanning machine.


Speech and Language Therapy

My speech and language therapist  “helped my son grow in confidence with speech, play, interaction and attention. She really got to know my little boy and that meant a lot to me. I really appreciate all she has done for us and I know she has made a real impact on my son’s future. Thank you so much!

Paramedic Education

AHP Paramedic students learn in multiple clinical settings including AHP & Community Teams, Coronary Care, Emergency Departments and Operating Theatres.

The Northern Trust provides a rich and welcoming learning environment for our student paramedic colleagues.

A group of paramedic students with staff.








Autumn 2023 Northern Trust AHP Newsletter


A group of staff members pictured together with an award.

Dalriada Hospital initiative leads to UK award for Northern Trust Dietetic Team

The Community Rehab Dietetic Team from the Northern Health and Social Care Trust has been named ‘CN UK Community Nutrition Professional of the Year’ for 2023 at the recent Complete Nutrition Awards.

The annual awards celebrate excellence in clinical, medical and health nutrition, showcasing individuals, groups and organisations who have made a positive contribution and significant difference to the nutrition profession.

The team was nominated for the accolade in recognition of their innovative approach to implementing positive nutritional interventions at Dalriada Hospital in Ballycastle which included the delivery of ‘nutrition for recovery’ training for staff, and the development of educational resources for patients.

Dietitian Debbie McGugan and Dietetic Assistance Practitioner, Pamela McMullan, attended the prestigious event in London on September 28 where they were presented with their prize.

Speaking after receiving the news of their success, they said: “We were delighted to be nominated by our nursing colleague, Sister Bridget O’Neill at Dalriada for this UK title, and we are very honoured to have won.

“This award is recognition for the wider team who work collaboratively with us at Dalriada, and we want to thank our patients, as well as our nursing, catering, dysphagia support and domestic services colleagues for their enduring support, as well as the Trust’s Quality Improvement team.

“We are very pleased to have won, and our success will strengthen our efforts to ensure older people at risk of malnutrition, age-related loss of strength, and frailty have access to timely dietary interventions and are enabled to self-assess, monitor and manage their conditions to ensure they stay as well as possible.”


Physiotherapist and patient pictured in a swimming pool.

Showcasing the benefits of Physiotherapy on World Physiotherapy Day

A Northern Trust patient has shared his positive experience of physiotherapy to mark World Physiotherapy Day on Friday 8th September.

Derek was referred by his consultant after fracturing his foot, and his overall health and wellbeing has been greatly enhanced by his treatment plan, which included regular hydrotherapy.

Derek explained: “I have lived with type 1 diabetes for 23 years, arthritis for 8 years and the lung condition COPD for 2 years which means I get short of breath during activity, and combined with arthritis it makes exercise difficult.

“Exercising in water makes life easier for me as the buoyancy means I can move with ease and enjoy exercising. I want to be able to help myself and feel fit for the future.

“I have gained better mobility and strength which in turn makes day to day activities easier to do. I would like to thank my Physiotherapist for this great experience and for introducing me to the benefits of exercising in water. “

Northern Trust Physiotherapist Sarah said working together with patients to achieve the best outcomes is hugely important: “I will listen to your story and we will agree a treatment plan to help you manage your arthritis. This plan will involve advice and reassurance on a range of management strategies that you are able to do.

“My aim is to help you to cope with everyday routines whether your arthritis is going through a flare up or not. Arthritis research shows that physical activity helps to reduce pain, strengthen muscles and improve joint mobility.

“I will help you to plan for the future by signposting you to services that support you to move forward and live well with arthritis such as Versus Arthritis. It is hugely satisfying when patients like Derek have the confidence to manage their condition, live better with arthritis and remain independent following physiotherapy input.”

This year, the main theme of World Physiotherapy Day is arthritis, with a focus on inflammatory arthritis.

In the Northern Trust, specialist Rheumatology Physiotherapists play an important part within our multidisciplinary team.

Andrew Barbour, Clinical Lead for Musculoskeletal and Rheumatology Services, said: “I would like to recognise the significant contribution the team has made in positively impacting the lives of patients with arthritis.  They have shown excellence in improving the physiotherapy service by developing a referral and review pathway through to rheumatology from their musculoskeletal colleagues for patients suspected of living with inflammatory arthritis and axial spondyloarthritis.”

Emma Cameron, Head of Physiotherapy Services within the Northern Trust added: “I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the role our Physiotherapists play in promoting lifestyle management of arthritic conditions including preventative work as well as more specific and individualised treatment packages.

“The assessment and rehabilitation skills of our Physiotherapists enable service users to live well, remain mobile and independent. These interventions take place every day from children’s services all the way through the ages.

“On World Physiotherapy Day I would like to thank our Physiotherapy teams for their dedication and commitment to helping patients manage the impact of their arthritis and supporting them for the future as well.”