Alarm over baby care

MUMS in Suffolk are being denied special baby care on their doorstep - even though the region has THREE times as many neonatal units as it needs, the Evening Star can reveal.

By Tracey Sparling

MUMS in Suffolk are being denied special baby care on their doorstep - even though the region has THREE times as many neonatal units as it needs, the Evening Star can reveal.

Mothers still being transferred to other hospitals from Ipswich – forcing hospital chiefs to look at why Ipswich needs to look elsewhere to help care for special cases such as multiple births and premature babies.

According to the director nursing at Ipswich, Clare Barlow, who is launching the review the situation is "totally unacceptable" – and means that twins and triplets may be treated in different places.

Health bosses are now embarking on a review of hospital services.

There are currently 12 neonatal - formerly known as special care baby - units across the region, all under the spotlight as part of the five-year review.

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As Ms Barlow announced the review, she insisted it would serve only to strengthen the service offered to families at Ipswich Hospital.

She told directors at a hospital board meeting on Friday that health bosses are worried about the:

*high numbers of families being 'inappropriately' transferred between units and the time it takes to arrange such transfers

*the high number of multiple birth babies which go to different hospitals

and the unequal access to services for families

She said: "There is a general consensus of opinion that the 12 units which serve us across the eastern region are too many.

"Resources are too thinly spread at the moment to achieve national standards in time and staffing arrangements. We don't think we should have more than four units.

"At the end of the day, we will have something better than we have got at the moment. This is not about taking cots out of the system. We are looking at level three (intensive care) units to make sure we have got that right."

She added that the issue also had a political aspect after Gordon Brown's ten-day-old baby Jennifer Jane died at Scotland's Edinburgh Royal Infirmary earlier this year after suffering a brain haemorrhage and being treated in the hospital's neonatal unit.

Ipswich Hospital currently has mostly 'level two' high dependency beds in its neonatal unit which was featured in the Star at Christmas and some 'level three'.

But it is not enough, and Ms Barlow admitted it was 'totally unacceptable' that new mums and families had to travel several times to get the care they needed.

She said: "One poor woman was transferred a long way out, then to Colchester, then to us again and that is totally unacceptable - any new mum doesn't want to travel, never mind with a seriously-ill baby. That early time is very important.

"She is not the only example. Triplets had to be treated at two different hospitals.

Ms Barlow said: "Patients and parents have said they don't mind moving hospitals, as long as they are not being moved several times.

She said: "There are a number of options available for us to consider, and we have to think about what can work. We don't believe we should have one specialist unit for the area because that unit could fail if they couldn't get the staff for example. It would be too great a risk for everyone else."

Highlighting the need for more staff to cope with the problem, she said: "This is just stage one of a long-term plan. Extra resources have been allocated for these developments."

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