On Tuesday 15th January we received devastating news in our local area of South Pembrokeshire. Hywel Dda Health Board confirmed that the Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) at Withybush Hospital is to close with services shifted to Carmarthen, despite strong opposition from local campaigners.
I live in Milford Haven. Currently, residents in Milford Haven are seven miles away from our local hospital and Special Care Baby Unit. When the SCBU at Withybush closes we will be over thirty miles away from this vital service. Residents in more rural villages like Dale, will have to travel over forty miles to their nearest SCBU.
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I must point out to people who do not know the area, these journeys will not be on major, fast roads. The motorway does not start until after Carmarthen, so we can expect fairly long journeys for anyone needing to use SCBU.
Everybody that I know in our area has experience of SCBU, either directly or through someone else whose baby has needed to spend some time there. It is unbelievable to me that they can get away with closing a much needed, life saving unit like this.
I am one of many who have personal experience of Withybush Special Care Baby Unit. Two of my babies needed to be transferred to SCBU and Danny would not be with us today if the staff at our local hospital hadn’t acted so quickly and transferred him to SCBU and kept him alive until a team from Cardiff came down to transport him to Cardiff Children’s Hospital as his condition was too complex for a local hospital to deal with. So, I have experience of both the local SCBU saving his life by keeping him stable and also, unfortunately, experience of what it is like when a seriously ill newborn baby and a post-partum mum have to transfer hospitals.
I have blogged about Danny’s complete birth story here but there is a shorter extract in this post so you can better understand my experience of Withybush SCBU.
Based on my experiences, the questions I need to ask are, would Withybush Hospital Maternity Ward be able to cope with a child as severely ill as Danny without a Special Care Baby Unit in place?
I do worry that a few years after the closure of SCBU, the Specialist Nursing Skills will be diluted as more experienced staff transfer to higher paid more specialist jobs in other hospitals.
Will very sick babies for whom there will no longer be specialist services in Withybush survive the forty minutes journey to Carmarthen?
There was no choice but to transfer Danny, however due to this closure, many more babies will now need to be transferred to Carmarthen.
Will the Ambulance Service be able to cope with this increase in demand? One Ambulance can hold a sick baby and the crash team. No room for other patients or the parents.
A good Maternity Ward and SCBU need to look after the mother, so she is well enough to support her baby. As soon as I knew Danny was going to Cardiff, I knew I had to go too. I was ill, in pain and had no feeling in my legs, however I knew I had to discharge myself from the Maternity Ward to be with him. Luckily, I was young and healthy and no harm came of this. However, closing our local SCBU will mean more mothers having to put their own lives at risk to be with their special newborns, who need them.
After my last C-Section, I lost a lot of blood and had a drain inside me. If Isabelle had needed to be in Special Care and that had already been moved to Carmarthen, I know that I would not have been well enough to travel there with her for at least three days. That would have broke my heart not being with her, bonding with her and feeding her.
We all know how fragile the mental health of mothers can be post-natal and I really don’t think that encouraging the separation of Mother’s and babies will do any good in the long term.
Special Care Babies need their mothers milk just as much, or even more so than healthy babies. I found it hard expressing milk for Danny when he was in a different room. The Special Care nurses allowed me to express next to his cot, as the let down reflex relaxes when your child is near as you want, need to feed them. I then used to bring my milk to the milk room and it would be added to Danny’s feed.
How is breastfeeding Special care babies going to be encouraged if mother and baby are to be separated?
Premature babies need Kangaroo care, how can they have that if their mother is not there?
In the case where the mother is healthy enough to follow her baby to Carmarthen, will she be guaranteed a bed? Will the father be able to visit his baby as often with this increase in journey and the price of fuel rapidly rising? Will Health care notes be passed on sufficiently? Withybush once transferred Danny to Cardiff with no notes when he was in heart failure. This nearly resulted in him having an overdose of the diuretic. Thankfully, I remembered what medication Withybush had treated him with.
It will be harder for families with more than one child to cope with all this to-ing and fro-ing.
Then, there are of course the babies who require long term care in Special Care Baby Units. When. my niece Cerys was born at 33 weeks, she stayed in SCBU for over seven weeks. My sister, Jo, stayed in the Parent Accommodation in Withybush, but still found that a difficult, isolated time, living seven miles away from her home and belongings. Imagine what it would have been like if she had needed to stay in Carmarthen for that period of time? We would have had to make an hour and a half round journey to bring her supplies when needed, and bonding between other family members and the special baby is discouraged.
Will there be sufficient parent accommodation in Carmarthen SCBU to cope with the increase in demand? There was often a waiting list in Withybush.
I know that the NHS is struggling. I know cuts need to be made somewhere. But putting lives of newborn babies at risk is unjust. They did not cause this financial mess.
In wanting to keep our SCBU open, I am not putting Pembrokeshire before other areas, Carmarthenshire residents already have better access to more choice of Specialist Services. However, I’m sure the quality of their services will deteriorate as the floodgates are opened to the whole of Pembrokeshire.
In 1970, Pembrokeshire campaigners organised “The Death March” to demand high quality essential secondary health care for all Pembrokeshire People and they achieved this when Withybush opened in 1978.
Here we are over forty years later and killing off our healthcare and potentially Pembrokeshire people instead of improving and remedying it.
It is not just SCBC that is at risk of course, other services are at risk until we are no longer left with our own County Hospital. The healthboard have come to this decison as the changes proposed would suit ‘the majority’ of the population of West Wales (about 200,000 around Carmarthen). This means they are happy to leave the Pembrokeshire population (120,000) at higher risk and ultimately with a 3rd class secondary health care service locally and a lot of travelling East for many patients and their relatives.
Can you help our SCBU?
Have you had your own Special Care Baby Unit experience? Have you or are you planning to blog about it?
If so, I would be very grateful if you would link up your Special Care post, so that Mums, Dads, and everyone are uniting to show how important all of our Special Care Baby Units are to us.
Don’t have a blog? Email your story to me at email@example.com and I can link it for you!
How far away is your nearest Special Care Baby Unit? What distance should be the cut off limit?
Other Ways to Help
- Attend the meeting
HYWEL DDA HEALTH BOARD
A meeting of the Hywel Dda Health Board
will take place on
Thursday 31 January 2013 at 9.30 am
Venue: Cambrian Room, Glangwili Hospital ,
2. Join the Convoy
10th April 2013 Come & Join our A40 Convoy by any mode of transport from Withybush to Glangwili.
3. Donate to SWAT
We as an organisation will challenge the Hywel Dda Health Board on the legality of its recommendations as it clearly impinges on the human rights of every person living in Pembrokeshire. In order to do this, we will need at least £1 from every man, woman, and child in Pembrokeshire to get anywhere close to the amount we need to mount a legal challenge via a judicial review or European human rights. We need your support to bring this challenge to the Hywel Dda Health Board. Every penny counts. Donations to the fighting fund can be transferred through internet banking or directly in any Lloyds Bank branch using the following account details.
SWAT account number 01914837 Sort Code 30-93-98
Thank you for reading and hopefully helping. I look forward to reading your SCBU stories.