MBE for Kelly who kept parents to be connected during Covid-19

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Kelly Pierce in maternity

A former Senior Midwifery Manager from St Richard’s and Worthing Hospitals has been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list for a service she helped create that came to the aid of expectant mums and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Kelly Pierce has been honoured by Her Majesty for being the brains behind a digital portal called Family Assist, a one-stop shop of essential information for parents and their families throughout pregnancy, birth and beyond.

Founded in 2017, the portal replaced ‘mountains and mountains of leaflets’ and enabled families to stay connected on their childbirth journey in a way that hadn’t been possible before.

In March 2020, when the country went into lockdown the unique connectivity that Family Assist provides really came into its own.

Kelly’s innovation has now been recognised by the Queen in the 2021 Birthday Honours List on the recommendation of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, with Kelly being awarded the MBE for services to the NHS particularly during Covid-19.

Kelly, who now works as Head of Service for Early Health and Prevention; Consultant Midwife in Public Health at Solent NHS Trust and Portsmouth City Council led the initiative when Family Assist began in 2017, and is absolutely thrilled to receive the award.

She said: “I was so shocked when I received the news in an email. I thought it was spam to begin with!

“It is such an honour to be recognised in this way. I don’t even know who nominated me but I am so humbled that they did and that I have been chosen to receive this award from the Queen.

“I may be the one who is being recognised but it is the whole team who deserve one just as much for everything they have done, especially this past 18 months. I am overwhelmed.”

Kelly came up with the idea of Family Assist in 2012 but the idea only received funding in 2017 when Family Assist was developed as a joint working partnership between Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, Sussex Community NHS Foundation Trust and West Sussex County Council.

Kelly said: “I just thought that expectant parents and new parents are bombarded with leaflets and information throughout their child birth journey. I thought there must be an easier and better way of people receiving the right information at the right time and in the right way and the right place”

“The most influential people around expectant parents and new parents are their families and friends so I thought how can they all be connected and Family Assist is an innovative new way of ensuring that parents and their friends and families have access to a wide range of information and resources, both local and national, at their fingertips.”

The service can be accessed at any time, from a phone, tablet or PC, and will also send key pieces of information by e-mail which is sent to registered users at the relevant stages throughout pregnancy and the early stages of a child’s life according to a mother’s due date or the age of a child.

As a user of Family Assist, families also have the ability to reach out to local professionals to ask a question and receive a response by e-mail within 2 working days so families can be sure that they have received reliable and relevant information. In addition, parents can also invite their family and friends to join them on their information pathway which enables them to receive the same information and ask questions. This is a fantastic way to include dads and partners who often feel like they aren’t included in the pregnancy journey.

Since its launch, thousands and thousands of people have signed up. But since March 2020 the floodgates opened as the portal really came into its own.

Kelly said: “I often would say when speaking about Family Assist at conferences that it is a model that would really show its worth if ever there was a pandemic. Because it would connect families, around one of the most important events like having a baby. Unfortunately, we got a pandemic but Family Assist has proved such a force for good”.

“There were lots of really, really worried expectant parents, lots of really concerned new parents and of course all their loved ones around them.”

“There were huge service changes in maternity – daily. We were able to put everything on Family Assist and people knew they could go on there, from their home, and find out everything they needed. The floodgates opened in terms of more and more families signing up.

“We also enabled live-chat on the portal where midwives who would normally work clinically but had to isolate or shield were on hand to answer any questions; we created really informative videos that went on the portal too. This helped families immensely but also ensured staff not able to work clinically could still feel connected to help in the Covid-19 effort.”

“It has always been a service I was proud of but during lockdown it was a saving grace for so many people during the most challenging period of our lives.”

Marianne Griffiths, Chief Executive at University Hospitals Sussex NHS Foundation Trust, which Worthing Hospital is a part of, is delighted for Kelly.

“The MBE is an accolade Kelly richly deserves. Family Assist was a wonderful creation when we first began using the service in 2017 but when the pandemic came and all our worlds changed so drastically, Family Assist proved to be utterly invaluable to thousands of vulnerable mother’s to be, new parents and their families.

“Kelly’s work, and that of all her team, the way they adapted on a daily basis, the way they innovated and faced the daily challenges in a way that always ensured the patient’s care was truly first was inspirational. I wholeheartedly congratulate her.”

Sue Harriman, Chief Executive, Solent NHS Trust, said: “Congratulations to Kelly on this fantastic and well deserved recognition. Kelly being awarded an MBE for services to the NHS during COVID-19 is particularly special and poignant as it shows that innovation, hard work and the delivery of high quality services for people is at the forefront of what we do, even in the most unprecedented of times. We are excited to now be introducing some of the successful digital elements that Kelly devised as part of this work, offering key information and resources for pregnant women and young children within Solent’s communities.”

Kelly will be invited to receive her award at an investiture on a date yet to be fixed.