Ex-wedding North Wales dress designer wins national health award

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A wedding dress designer turned healthcare worker who has supported hundreds of new mums to breastfeed is in the running for a top national health award.

Pictured is Julie Edwards, a maternity support worker at Wrexham Maelor hospital who is up for a Royal College of Nursing national award for her work pictured with Baby Alice Griffiths, 36 hours old.

Julie Edwards, who works as a maternity support worker at Wrexham Maelor Hospital, has been recognised for freeing up the valuable time of midwives and by providing emotional and practical support to new mums when they need it most.

The 50-year-old started off her working career working for Laura Ashley and celebrity wedding dress designer Shelagh M before becoming a phlebotomist – taking blood samples from patients.

Julie is now in line for the prestigious Royal College of Midwives Maternity Support Worker of the Year title. The mum-of-two from Wrexham’s Pentre Bach estate will attend a glittering ceremony at The Brewery in London on March 7, where the winner will be announced.

It is the icing on the cake for Julie who switched from her role as a phlebotomist five years ago to fulfil her lifetime ambition of working on a post-natal ward.

“I was flabbergasted but absolutely thrilled to be nominated,” said Julie, who has worked for the NHS for 20 years.

“I love everything about my job. I never leave home dreading the start of my shift. Not many people can say they love their job.

“When I’m on annual leave, I really miss it. I miss the babies, the mums and the midwives. We are a fantastic team and there’s absolutely nothing I dislike about my job.

“It’s very rewarding. The midwives are incredibly busy but the beauty of my role is the fact that you can sit and take the time to discuss any problems with new mums and become a source of advice for them.

“Quite often they will talk in confidence to me. I’ve always lived my life by the motto ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’. If I was sat there – and I have done on two occasions when I had my own children – that bit of extra support goes a very long way. I don’t just mean for the mums, I mean the families as a whole, as the dads can feel just as stressed.”

Julie, who has two sons aged 21 and 26, previously worked as a machinist for Laura Ashley in Leeswood and a bespoke wedding dress maker for designer Shelagh M.

She decided to retrain as the youngsters grew older and took on a support worker role in a GP’s surgery before moving to Wrexham Maelor where she trained to become a phlebotomist. She would regularly go on to the postnatal wards as part of her role to take blood samples from the new mums and babies.

“I always loved the atmosphere and always volunteered to go up to that ward,” she said.

Five years ago, a position became available as a healthcare assistant on the ward and Julie was recruited for the job. After 12 months, she embarked on a Diploma in Maternal and Paediatric Support (QCF) to enable her to take on more responsibilities.

“I went for it and have never regretted it,” said Julie, who is currently studying for a foundation course with the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM).

“We support breastfeeding mums and take on a lot of everyday tasks, such as PKU testing and clinical observations, allowing midwives to focus on the clinical work. We also do parenting skills, bathing, nappy changing and provide advice on the general care and safety of the newborn.

“Breastfeeding can be quite a challenge and quite often a mum needs someone to boost their confidence to carry on.

“It’s very rewarding. I often bump into parents after they’ve left and gone home and they’ve given positive feedback.

“I always make time for people and I think I can sense if someone needs that bit extra. It doesn’t cost anything to make time for people.

“It’s such a precious time. Those early days with the baby are days you never forget and you want to make it all as smooth as possible because you’ll talk about it for the rest of your lives.

“One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is stopping someone giving up breastfeeding. Also, a lot of people have never handled a baby before having one themselves and just to see their confidence build with your help is amazing.”

She added: “I’m absolutely thrilled to be nominated. I would like to emphasise that I’m very much part of a team and we’re a pretty good team – you couldn’t do any better. We support each other and we all realise that at the end of the day we have one of the best jobs in the world.”

Julie was nominated for her award by Lynne Edgerton, a midwife and senior midwifery lecturer at Bangor University, who will also be at the awards.

Lynne said: “The positive impact that Julie has on the immediate postnatal care is reflected in anecdotal evidence of increased breast feeding rates and freeing up the time of midwives.

“My own experience of working with her means that I am confident that women will have a better experience and I will have a better shift.

“The best compliment I can pay Julie is that for several years I have been trying to encourage her to train as a midwife – I have not given up hope.”

She added: “I have nominated Julie for the RCM’s Maternity Support Worker of the year award as I believe she embodies the core values of Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board.  She is caring and compassionate and puts the client at the centre of her care.

“I am delighted to see Julie actively role modelling these skills to the midwifery  students of Bangor university as partnership working for the benefit of clients is a core philosophy of both BCUHB  and Bangor university.”

Cathy Warwick, Chief Executive of the Royal College of Midwives, said: “Just to be shortlisted is a great achievement and I congratulate Julie on getting this far. This award highlights the passion, commitment and drive of our maternity support workers and how they can contribute to improving the services and the care women receive, they are a key part of the maternity team. I wish Julie the best of luck at the awards ceremony.”