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A failsafe officer is for life, not just for Christmas

I’m the antenatal and newborn screening coordinator at Northampton General Hospital. That means I’m responsible for making sure we offer and carry out all antenatal and newborn screening tests  correctly for mothers and babies in our care.

The screening failsafe officer has become an essential role in our team: our failsafe officer is for life, not just for Christmas.

When I attend national and regional meetings, I realise just how desirable it is to have a good failsafe officer.  We know:

  • all babies in our care have been offered screening
  • all women have had their antenatal screening pathway completed
  • the outcomes of all screening tests

We can even improve outcomes with the assistance of the failsafe officer, for example by reminding patients to attend appointments.

Photo of screening team
Screening team (from left): failsafe officer Becky Chapman, ANNB screening coordinator Andrea Coleman, screening phlebotomist Sam Galloway and deputy screening coordinator Louise Nicol


Around the end of 2014 our screening department was drowning in data, or, to be exact, we were trying to match cohort data and ensure all our women and babies had completed their screening pathways. We had a distinct lack of administrative help. Basically there were too many plates in the air and not enough people to keep them spinning.

We didn’t really know if all babies had had their newborn and infant physical examination (NIPE) or blood spot screening, or if all women had been offered antenatal screening. We had not long introduced the newborn blood spot failsafe solution (NBSFS) and had plans to implement the NIPE SMART IT system but knew we needed more help if they were to be used effectively.  Something had to change if we wanted to keep the plates spinning and run a safe service.

Project planning

Fortunately around the same time I was also in the middle of studying for my MSc and one module focused on the skills required to undertake a project – from the planning stage through to submitting a business case for a new failsafe officer. This was a perfect opportunity to hone my new found skills. We submitted the business case and thankfully our head of midwifery supported it wholeheartedly.

So, with a new job description, personal specification and banding completed, we went out to advert. This was a success and attracted more than 50 applicants. We knew we’d selected the perfect candidate when Becky Chapman told us she would be a bit obsessive about ensuring everything is followed up.

During Becky's induction we thought it was important she had a bird’s eye view of screening, the professionals involved and understood exactly where screening starts and finishes.  She spent time in all the related departments and by doing this she developed an understanding of the patient screening journey.

So fast forward to the present…..

We are not complacent, and still have work to do, especially around the fetal anomaly screening programme and cohort data. We still have those plates spinning but thankfully the risk of them crashing around our ears has diminished.

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