Post date: 
Thursday, 20 August 2015

Earlier this year, RNIB Northern Ireland recruited Andie Morrow as its first paediatric children’s Eye Care Liaison Officer (ECLO). Here, she talks about her new role.

What does your job involve? 

I will be based in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. Generally, I will be talking to parents who have just had a new diagnosis for their child or have just become aware their child has significant sight loss. 
The role of ECLO is to support the parents and family as well as the children. Children tend to get on with things and don’t really factor in their sight loss, especially if they’re very young. They generally don’t see the difference and don’t realise that they see things differently, so they just carry on. It’s the parents who have the bigger traumas and the bigger problem accepting things. 
As an ECLO, I am there to take over from where the consultant has left off. So once the consultant has diagnosed the child, I step in and have a chat with the parents. The first couple of appointments involve listening to the families, and seeing where their concerns are and what they need help with. 
We then progress to referring them into the sensory support team, doing educational referrals, and of course to the delightful Children and Families Team, so they get to do the fun bits. 
When I’ve referred them to the Children and Families Team, they go to the family officer to obtain further support. I also work with the consultants to see what the process will be, what the prognosis is and what the next steps will be for the child when they’re at the hospital. It’s the first point of contact, getting the parents in, and giving them an idea of where they need to go next and moving them on. But you can’t overload parents with information – you need to go at their pace and consider what suits them.
In effect, are you like a bridge between the hospitals and the medical profession and other support services?
Yes, we are there to provide that support and a little bit of knowledge within reason. We don’t have any medical qualifications so we don’t do that, but we give as much knowledge as we can, and try to help the families. It’s a bit of a minefield when you don’t know what to do next. I know from my own experiences when I was registered as sight impaired, I didn’t know what to do next. I was kind of left after the consultant said: “Yeah, you can do that.” So I called RNIB NI myself and spoke to Susan Caskie, who advised me what to do and what the next step was. I’d have been lost without that.

You must get to know the medical staff in the hospital quite well?

Yes, I think that’s the intention. They are all open and friendly, and they were all keen to have this paediatric ECLO come in to support their workload as well. If you look at the financial side, the ECLO makes a massive impact on the consultants and their time, so the consultants are keen to use our support once they’ve handed the family over. They want to know that help is there for them and they’re not just left to go and Google things by themselves.

Is the post full or part time?

It’s part time, for 21 hours, so I’m still trying to work out what days I need to be working. I’m in and out of the office and up at the hospital a lot, so it’s quite confusing.

Why is there a need for a paediatric ECLO? 

I know there was a large amount of referrals coming through for children. I deal with Belfast and Southeastern Trust areas. 
Northern Ireland is divided into five trust areas. The hospital I’m in is based in Belfast, so it’s normally children in Belfast and South-eastern areas we cater for. But there has been an increase in children being referred and I know RNIB had worked in conjunction with the consultants who were keen to have an ECLO solely dedicated to the children’s clinics. There were a large number of cases coming through and they felt an ECLO should be dedicated to the children’s eye clinic.

How does it feel to be the first children’s ECLO for RNIB Northern Ireland? 

I’m starting to feel the pressure. But I have to say it’s very exciting, very challenging and also so interesting. I’ve got really into it and I thoroughly enjoy working with the kids as well as the parents. So it’s a good thing, but it’s a wee bit scary to think it’s the first ever. We need to make this work well so that everywhere gets one.

How long is your contract for?

It’s two years – two years part-time work. And the intention is that when the two years come to an end, hopefully I’ve made a massive impact and we can get more funding for it.

What did you do before this role?

After I graduated from university, I moved to Holland for several years to work in recruitment with the European Space Agency. I did that for a couple of years, had children, came back here, had various different posts, but worked in recruitment and support of lone parents in finding employment. I then started working with RNIB in August last year. I moved into the trainee grade scheme working in the Children and Families Team, organising events for children with sight loss. Part of the scheme is to get help filling out application forms and moving on to the next stage, as it’s only a 50-week programme. I applied for the ECLO job, had to do a presentation and an interview – and happily got the job.

Finally, for someone listening to this, how would they get in touch with RNIB’s ECLO service in Northern Ireland?

You can either ask your consultant about it during an appointment and they will fill in a green form with your contact details and give it to the ECLO. Or you can call RNIB for a self-referral. We will then call you, have a chat and see what sort of help we can give you, where we can refer you, what kind of information you need, and then see what to do next. So call RNIB or speak to your consultant.

Further information 

  • If you live in Northern Ireland and you wish to talk to a new ECLO or indeed anyone from the RNIB support services, call 02890 323 973. 


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