Gallery: Fond farewell for Ipswich Hospital’s head of midwifery after 32 years and 120,000 babies

Chris Colbourne is retiring next week as head midwife at Ipswich Hospital after 32 years working in

Chris Colbourne is retiring next week as head midwife at Ipswich Hospital after 32 years working in the field. - Credit: Archant

SHE has been involved in the delivery of tens of thousands of babies during more than three decades of distinguished service at Ipswich Hospital.

But today, midwife Chris Colbourne is preparing to say her goodbyes to the maternity department she has led with pride, skill and compassion.

More than 120,000 babies have been delivered at the hospital since the 55-year-old joined as a qualified midwife in 1982.

Later this month Chris will retire from her role as head midwife after 36 years working in the NHS – 32 of which have been at the hospital, and 12 spent leading the department.

“I never planned to become a midwife but I love my job, I still love my job,” she told The Star.

“I love the really unique experience you get working with mums in particular and their partners, at what is a very special time in their lives.”

But a lot has changed since she started her midwifery training at Ipswich in 1981, after qualifying as a nurse at Kings College London.

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She said: “I didn’t enjoy a minute of my midwifery training. It was very different to how things are now.

“When I qualified I didn’t want to stay in midwifery, I wanted a job on the general nursing side. “But there were no jobs and a shortage of midwives. I haven’t looked back since.”

Over the years, Chris said she has seen the NHS and Ipswich Hospital change, witnessing good times and bad.

More paperwork and a culture of targets and accountability introduced by successive governments has changed the face of healthcare, she said.

“Sometimes I do fear that we concentrate on that (paperwork and administration) rather than the clinical side of things,” she added.

“Not all of it is a bad thing but it has had the biggest impact on clinical practice.

“That time could be spent with the women.”

Crediting her predecessor Elizabeth Fern with transforming the culture of the department, Chris said the team’s philosophy – focusing on the needs of expectant mums – is something she hopes will be her legacy.

“It is about focusing on the woman and her choices, discussing her options with her,” she said. “The majority of women we are looking after are going through a life event, they are not ill.

“What we have continued here, throughout my leadership, is making sure we don’t apply the medical and nursing model – needed when a woman is at significant risk during pregnancy or birth – to those who have normal risk.

“Our aim is to give mums and their families the best possible childbirth experience while balancing their own clinical circumstances.”

Under Chris Colbourne’s leadership her team scooped a top national award in January.

The team were named Maternity Service of the Year at the Royal College of Midwives awards ceremony.

The award came on the same day as the Department of Health announced the trust will be handed £650,000 to improve the birthing experience for parents.

Chris said: “The award was fantastic, it was about leadership and team working.

“It is about the fact we will learn from times when things don’t go as well as we have hoped. “The majority of the time everything does go really well, that is the 90% of the job when being a midwife is fantastic.

“The other 10% of the time when things don’t go so well for whatever reason is really challenging.

“Having won the award, I feel that I am leaving on a really good high, both professionally and personally, for me and also the staff.

“My hope is that the philosophy that we have nurtured here, of providing a safe, high-quality service to women continues against the very challenging times the NHS is facing.”

Fighting back the tears, she said she will miss the people she works with, both staff and the women they care for, the most when she retires on March 31.

“I have been really lucky in the fact that I have got the most amazing team of people that I lead, from senior midwives to the community midwives to the maternity care workers.

“Thank you sounds silly,” she said. “But it is thank you to them all for their support, for their respect – because it isn’t always an easy message that I have had to give out to them, while often they may not like the message they understand the reasons why – their tolerance and most of all their friendship.

“I want to thank them for their passion in providing the best service that we can within the resources we have got. For providing women with choice and supporting them in their choices. “We have got a very high midwife led care here, just under 25% of babies are delivered under the care of a midwife alone, without any doctors involved at all.” But despite stepping down she said she can’t believe she has delivered her last baby.

Part of her plan for retirement is to return to the maternity wards at the hospital to join the temporary bank midwives providing cover when it is needed.

And with her husband she will be realising a long-held dream – to finish building their retirement home in north Norfolk, moving back across the border to the county from where she originates. “Simon has been my rock, he has supported me throughout my career, the bad times and the good,” she added.

“I am excited and nervous. I will miss my job. There are lots of good people working here at Ipswich Hospital. It is a really challenging time in the NHS but this is fundamentally a good local hospital full of good local people.”