When and why did you first get involved with NCT?
I went to antenatal classes and stayed a member as I enjoyed the newsletters. Then when my youngest was just about to start pre-school a volunteer knocked on my door and asked if I would like to get more involved. I said I was interested in training as a breastfeeding counsellor and very soon became a pump agent.
When and how did you get involved with maternity services activity?
Around the time I qualified as a breastfeeding counsellor, I felt breastfeeding support at the local hospital could and should be improved. I wanted to encourage them to put some resources into the Baby Friendly Initiative and so I joined the MSLC. I got involved with lots of other issues over time and was chair between 2009 and 2013. BFI is still close to my heart; I represent users and NCT on the county breastfeeding group. Ten years later they have stage 2 and are hopefully going for stage 3 in the autumn, so it hasn’t been quick but there has definitely been an improvement.
What have you learnt from the different projects you have been involved with?
Never be afraid to go to the top (Chief Exec of the trust) if something important is being blocked because middle management don’t see its value. They are often more helpful and less aware of the arguments than you expect! If you can gather user views quickly on a topic, it can get you lots of kudos in the health service. Be patient, persistent and positive; don’t expect any change to happen quickly – anything less than 2 years is speedy!
How do you feel they have contributed to improving care for parents and families? Breastfeeding support locally is definitely better, though there is still room for improvement! We now have a perinatal mental health service which was a long time coming but might still not be here if we hadn’t kept raising it. The birth environment is better than it was too, having won some of the government upgrade money (a quick feedback exercise helped with that). Finally visiting hours for partners are longer and some are able to stay overnight.
What would you say to anyone who is feeling nervous about becoming a user rep?
Just do one thing and see how you get on – even if you don’t stay involved you can make a useful contribution. As an MSLC chair I never minded if people came for just one meeting: it kept the group fresh. It is helpful to speak up and say how you see an issue especially when your view is different from others in the room. Be sparing in quoting your personal experience and always debrief with a health professional or fellow rep before raising something in a meeting. If you can gather others views too you will have a stronger case. Make use of experienced people around locally and nationally for information and support, and ask questions until you understand what is being discussed.