Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Neonatal units are in crisis, says charity Bliss

Crisis in neonatal units
(From the BBC website).

Premature baby charity Bliss has said a crisis in the care of babies in neonatal units is deepening.

One area of specific concern that the charity has highlighted is the number of babies who are being transferred - sometimes hundreds of miles - between hospitals because of staff or cot shortages.

Nicola Eardley, from Norfolk, experienced this first-hand when she gave birth to her son Charlie nearly three years ago.

In the 26th week of her pregnancy, Nicola noticed her baby was very still, so travelled to her local hospital, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, where she had planned to give birth, to see what was wrong.

"Throughout the day they did lots of scans and discovered that his heart was failing and the placenta had failed. They told me he had to be delivered today," she said.

"But then the other bombshell came that although he had to be delivered, they had no incubators free.

"So we had to go home, get some stuff and come back, and within 10 minutes of being back at the hospital we were put in an ambulance and sent off to Nottingham."

Nottingham City Hospital is about 150 miles from Norwich - it took about three and a half hours to get there.

When she arrived her baby, who she called Charlie, was delivered by caesarean. At only 26 weeks, he was very tiny; he weighed just 660g (1lb 7oz).

"In the first few days Charlie did very very well. But then he got NEC - Necrotizing Enterocolitis - a condition that affects the bowels. Some babies need to have part of their bowels removed and it does kill an awful lot of premature babies," she said.

"But we were lucky enough that the antibiotics did the trick for Charlie."

Stressful experience

Charlie spent five weeks at the neonatal unit at Nottingham. Nicola said the hospital staff were "fantastic" because they gave her and her partner a room in the unit so they could stay with their son.

But the distance from home still caused problems, and Nicola had to arrange for relatives to look after her other three children, at the time all under the age of 10.

When an incubator was available back at Norwich and Charlie was well enough to be transferred, the family embarked on the trip back to their local hospital.

But, Nicola said, the change in hospitals was also problematic.

"Norwich were fantastic as well, it's just that they had different routines and protocols, so it was a completely different set up to what we had got used to."

Eventually, after spending about 15 weeks in hospital, Charlie was finally allowed home. Now two, Nicola says Charlie is a bundle of energy, but he does still have some problems.

"He cannot eat and is fed by a gasterostomy tube, and he is also still on oxygen when he is asleep.

"But other than that he runs about like any other child."

Although Nicola says the whole situation was incredibly stressful, she is not angry because the team at Nottingham saved her son's life.

"But what would have happened if Nottingham hadn't had a free incubator?" she wonders.