Sunderland Royal Hospital intensive neonatal care unit will no longer look after premature babies born under 26 weeks

Changes to premature birth care in the region will mean Sunderland Royal Hospital will no longer look after babies born under 26 weeks.
Sunderland Royal Hospital.Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Sunderland Royal Hospital.

The Royal Victoria Infirmary (RVI) in Newcastle will now take in babies born under 26 weeks from the South Tyneside and Sunderland area.

If cots are not available at the RVI, Middlesbrough’s James Cook Hospital will take in the “extremely preterm” children.

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Sunderland’s intensive neonatal care unit is the smallest in the country, meaning it is not active enough to meet clinical standards for extremely premature babies.

The Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle.The Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle.
The Royal Victoria Infirmary, Newcastle.

The changes are estimated to affect five families annually in the Sunderland and South Tyneside area.

According to health chiefs, the move will allow Sunderland Royal Hospital to increase the care it can give to babies needing intensive neonatal care from 26 to 30 weeks from across the North East.

Dr Imran Ahmed, Sunderland Royal Hospital’s consultant neonatologist and lead of the neonatal unit said: “As a Trust, we fully support this change which is in the best interests of babies who are born extremely premature.

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“In future, it means babies who are born below 26 weeks will receive care from either Newcastle or Middlesbrough.

“For our neonatal unit here in Sunderland, it means we will continue to provide intensive care for even more premature babies born at 26 weeks, both from our local area and the wider region, who need the expertise and care of our highly skilled neonatal team.

“This change will impact a very small number of families and we are working with our neonatal care co-ordinators to make sure those affected are fully supported.”

A spokesperson for The Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “The RVI is a regional centre for specialist and complex neonatal care and our dedicated team looks after some of the most vulnerable premature babies.

"There will be very little impact on maternity services due to this change and pathways are being put in place to ensure, as far as possible, that this is where these babies will be delivered, as well as The James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough.

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“Neonatal care is provided across the country in a variety of settings depending upon the interventions required, with dedicated transport services to support babies being transferred to and from neonatal care units.

"Not all hospitals provide specialist neonatal services, so a baby may be transferred to another hospital if neonatal care is required.”

Feedback from families has revealed some concerns regarding the financial and transport implications the changes could have on mothers and families.