Betty McGrath Grant to help improve newborn pain management outcomes

Thursday 18 March 2021

Can a nurse-led model of analgesia administration improve pain management outcomes of newborns in surgical neonatal intensive care? This is the question Renee Muirhead will address in new research using her Betty McGrath Seeding Grant.

Ms Muirhead’s research aims to develop and validate a model for nurse-controlled analgesia (NCA) that is responsive and tailored to the needs of neonates and ensures optimal pain management.

A neonatal nurse for close to 30 years, Ms Muirhead has seen firsthand the importance of getting neonatal pain management right. She hopes her research will lead to better pain management practices in surgical neonatal intensive care units, not just at Mater Mothers’ Hospital, but around Australia and abroad.

“As healthcare professionals, we have an obligation to ensure our patients are pain free, and this is even more important when we’re caring for patients who cannot speak for themselves. 

“For newborns, the consequences of poorly managed or untreated pain can have serious short and long term adverse impacts, including permanent alterations in brain development. The stakes may be even higher for surgical newborns, who are at greater risk of poorer neurodevelopmental outcomes compared to babies not needing surgical intervention at all.

"As neonatal nurses, we are trained in assessing babies for pain and discomfort and so are ideally placed to implement a form of analgesia that is responsive to the needs of the baby. Having a model of pain relief that nurses can administer, which not only decreases the baby’s pain but reduces the unwanted side effects of under or over use, is so needed in this patient population,” Ms Muirhead said.

Ms Muirhead is using funds from her Betty McGrath Grant to deliver phase two of her research project. The first phase, already complete, was a systematic review of the safety and effectiveness of parent and nurse-controlled analgesia on neonatal patient outcomes.

Phase two will see Ms Muirhead and her team survey neonatal surgical units in Australia and New Zealand to gather data on their pain assessment practices, analgesic use and weaning strategies.

Informed by this survey data and phase one review findings, the team will engage a panel of clinical neonatal experts to develop a consistent approach for bedside nurses to manage surgical pain.

A joint initiative of Mater Health, Mater Research and Mater Foundation, the Betty McGrath Grant enables practising clinicians or other health professionals to pursue their research activity while allowing their departments to continue quality care to their patients.

Want to read more success stories like this? Please visit Mater Research website and find out more.