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Friday 29 April 2022

End of an era as Suzanne retires after 36 years spent shaping maternity services and helping deliver thousands of babies into the world


FOR 36 years she has been dedicated to helping shape and improve maternity services while also helping to bring thousands of babies safely into the world.

Spanning over four decades, Suzanne’s NHS career began in 1980 when she trained to be a nurse in London before embarking on maternity training in 1985 at Poole Maternity Hospital, where she went on to work in a number of roles.

It was there, that among the hundreds of babies she helped bring into the world, that she delivered Tim Taylor (pictured above).

Today, after 21 years at UHS - including the last five at the helm - she said farewell to colleagues as she retired. And in a fitting end to her remarkable career, she was able to meet and cuddle Tim’s new baby girl, Dorothy, who was born under the care of UHS maternity team eight days ago.

Suzanne joined UHS in 2000 as the UK’s first consultant midwife, alongside colleague Jane Rogers.

The role was introduced by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) to encourage the development of clinical leadership, retain expert clinical skills and transform maternity services to improve health outcomes for mothers and babies.

During her time at UHS, Suzanne helped to develop and evolve the service at the Princess Anne Hospital, with it regarded as a centre of excellence for maternity care for the 5,500 women it sees each year.

She oversaw an expansion to the role of the midwife, the opportunity for midwives in the region to continue study at masters or doctorate level and also led significant clinical research.

An area of interest in Suzanne's early career was exploring how midwives make decisions in respect to measuring the fetal heart rate (cardiotocography) and ventouse deliveries, when a vacuum cap is attached to a baby’s head to assist the birth.


Suzanne Cunningham
Suzanne Cunningham

Suzanne said: “I have loved my leadership role, both regionally and locally, and feel proud when I meet people who I have worked with and have been able to support in their development in some small way.

“I was lucky enough to be offered the post of consultant midwife which was the best role ever for me.

“It was an opportunity to really influence clinical practice and build on the culture at UHS of fantastic team-work and cross-team-working, in particular the obstetricians and midwives who have formed such a formidable ethos with the common goal of putting the care of women first ensuring it is both personalised and safe.”

She added: “One thing I am really proud of is changing practice at UHS whereby our midwives now perform the first medical examination and do most of these every day, as well as ventouse deliveries, normally something only doctors do, which highlights the high level of expertise and skill delivered by our midwifery team.”

Like many other services at UHS and across the NHS, the Covid-19 pandemic was a huge disruption to the maternity service and, within three weeks, everything changed.

“Nothing was the same,” recalled Suzanne. “How women booked into our service, parent education antenatal and postnatal care, nothing was left untouched but everyone pulled together to help ensure women continued to feel safe and cared for.

“We kept the Trust values at the centre of everything we did – patients first, working together and always improving – I know that may sound cheesy but when something like the pandemic hits the focus was on people who were really sick so the guidance for maternity came sometime later.

“We had to work it out together, how to organise routine care as unlike any other speciality this was one that couldn’t be cancelled.”

Throughout her time at UHS and over the course of the pandemic, Suzanne highlighted how proud she was of the team she helped to create.

“The maternity team at UHS are amazing – they are like a family and I will miss them,” she said.

“The support, care and kindness they give one another really shines through whenever I see them and it goes without saying that if our staff are happy at work they are more able to support women and their families and that has been key to everything we try to do.”

Suzanne Cunningham with new midwife Daisy Bruce
Suzanne Cunningham with new midwife Daisy Bruce

In 2010 Suzanne was awarded an OBE for her services to midwifery and the skills and experience that brought her this recognition will go on to influence the development of services nationally.

She will continue to work with the Chief Midwife Officer's Team in a role supporting hospitals that are experiencing difficulties – while also looking forward to earning the affections of her dog once again!

“Although sad to be leaving, I hope to feel that by supporting the Chief Midwife I am still making a contribution to improving the NHS but without the huge responsibility that comes with running a service.

“My husband has also retired and been a great support while I have been in this role, especially during the pandemic, but that means he and the dog have become great mates and I need to regain the affections of the dog!

“We have a camper van so am also looking forward to lots of travelling.”

Suzanne Cunningham with new director of midwifery Emma Northover
Suzanne Cunningham with new UHS director of midwifery Emma Northover