Memories from Kirkcaldy’s Forth Park hospital

l-r: Irene Fenske, infant feeding co-ordinator; Liz Whelan, midwifery sister and Cath Cummings, midwifery manager
l-r: Irene Fenske, infant feeding co-ordinator; Liz Whelan, midwifery sister and Cath Cummings, midwifery manager

Cath Cummings saw huge changes in midwifery services during her 42 years of service with NHS Fife, the majority of them spent in “the home” at Forth Park.

And the former midwifery manager says that throughout all the changes – not all of them, she believes, for the better – the main aim was caring for the birthing mothers and their families.

Forth Park

Forth Park

“My happiest times were in the room having the privilege to be there at the delivery and to assist the mums with birthing,” she told the Press.

“That was my passion and it was a very hands-on job!”

Cath (62), who retired from midwifery two years ago, said she never went into the profession to become a manager, but she thoroughly believes that the people who make the best clinical managers are those with solid background experience in the field.

“The NHS needs good clinical managers who have a lot of experience, and I believe that is what I brought to the role.

The old children's ward during the 1950s

The old children's ward during the 1950s

“We had a great team at Forth Park and I certainly learned from the best.”

Cath began her accomplished career in 1974 as a nursery nurse with little belief in her own abilities.

“I didn’t think I was bright enough to be a midwife, but the then matron Miss Grieve and the ward sister encouraged me to do it,” she explained.

“At that time you had to do your general nursing training then go back to do midwifery training.”

Cath Cummings delivering presents to the babies at Christmas.

Cath Cummings delivering presents to the babies at Christmas.

And she clearly remembers the defining moment during her training when she made up her mind that midwifery was for her.

“I just remember walking into a delivery room and floating back out saying ‘That’s what I want to do!

“Even though I went on to become women and children’s nursing services manager, my real passion was always being there to help women to give birth and make it a good experience for them wherever possible.

“People still come up to me now all these years on and say you delivered my baby, and that’s what is important to me.”

Cath as a midwife

Cath as a midwife

She said that some of her fondest memories were of Forth Park where she spent the majority of her career.

“It was a wonderful place to work and you knew everyone from the porters and cleaners to the managers. We were just like a big family.

“We would have a laugh and every Christmas I remember we would go round the wards delivering presents to all the babies.”

But she acknowledges that it was not always happy.

“We are human and when things go wrong. as they still can, it affects us too and we shared the sadness. That was the hardest part of it,” she said.

And one of the proudest days of Cath’s midwifery career was the opening of the Midwife-Led Unit at Forth Park in February 1994, where women with low-risk pregnancies could give birth in a home-from-home environment which offered much more relaxed and less clinical surrounding.

l-r: Jenny Warren; Moira Richmond; Jane McWalter; Irene Fenske; Liz Wheelan and Cath Cummings receiving an award at Forth Park hospital.

l-r: Jenny Warren; Moira Richmond; Jane McWalter; Irene Fenske; Liz Wheelan and Cath Cummings receiving an award at Forth Park hospital.

“I took up a full-time post as a sister in the midwife-led unit during the 1990s which I loved as it was such a lovely and relaxed atmosphere and gave women a real choice on how they wanted to give birth.

“There was as little medical intervention as possible, and they weren’t stuck to a bed with a monitor on them.They could have water births, TENS machines, and really birth the way they wanted and we were there to assist them.

“If any problems arose then the doctors and medical staff were just next door, and the women really loved it.

“The real pioneers of this were Margaret Brown and Tahir Mahmood who just wanted to make giving birth the best experience for women.

“The unit, which was the largest alongside unit in Scotland when it opened, was delivering over 1000 babies during the 1990s-2000s at its height, and it won lots of awards.

“Nowadays we have fantastic technology with 3D scans and things which are great, but I don’t think too much technology is a good thing, especially not if it takes the midwives away from spending time with the women and their families.”

And she firmly believes the people of Fife should never take the NHS for granted.

“We have an absolutely superb care provider in the NHS and I think sometimes the public forgets how lucky we are to have it.

“We are only human and sometimes we don’t get it right, but a lot of the time we do and it is the best public service in the world.”

Forth Park midwives winning first prize in the Kirkcaldy Pageant float around 1970s.

Forth Park midwives winning first prize in the Kirkcaldy Pageant float around 1970s.