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Published Thursday 21 Jan 2021

A neonatal physiotherapist at Wellington Regional Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) has been awarded for implementing a tool to help diagnose infants at high risk of motor disabilities such as cerebral palsy.

Alison Sheppard (pictured) received the Clinical Excellence award at Capital & Coast DHB’s annual ‘Celebrating Our Success’ awards for her work with the General Movements Assessment (GMA) – one of three tools which, used together, are considered best practice for early diagnosis of motor disability.

“The GMA involves taking video footage of an infant’s movements at specific ages – pre-term, term, and around 12 weeks – which are then scored by a specially trained team,” Alison said.

“The patterns of movement quality over time provide us with information about how the infant’s brain is developing.”

It is recognised that early diagnosis and intervention – such as intensified physiotherapy – for infants at a high risk of motor impairment can change the trajectory of disability and result in better outcomes. Providing family support and active involvement in a child’s treatment is also key.

“The earlier we support optimal movement and interactions, the more we can support quality of life opportunities. It is a privilege to work with our babies and their families during the initial stage of their developmental care journey.”

Alison was one of several CCDHB people trained to use the tool to assess infants in 2018. She then began the GMA set-up process, which involved collaboration with medical colleagues and teams across the 3DHBs including the ICT and legal teams.

Thanks to the work of Alison and her colleagues, GMA is now used routinely in Wellington’s NICU. Alison co-authored of a recently published article in the New Zealand Medial Association Journal describing the GMA implementation process, which will help other DHBs to set up similar processes.

Media contact: Chas Te Runa – 027 230 9571