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Pressure On Specialist Baby Care Hospital Units

A greater demand for long-stay intensive specialist care for premature and very sick babies is placing pressure on the country's six intensive care neonatal units, the Ministry of Health said today.

This means that a very few families may have to travel away from home to receive the care their tiny or sick baby requires.

Health Ministry maternity services manager, Barbara Browne, said an unusually sustained yet unpredictable demand for the highly specialist care the neonatal units provided meant a small number of families have had to travel for the specialist neonate care.

"Some neonatal babies have always had to travel anyway. So it's not unusual. But the current demand, and the fact that we are struggling to find enough specialist neonatal nurses, means that neonatal units can struggle with their workload. For example, a baby being cared for at Middlemore have to go to Waikato Hospital to get care it needs," Barbara Browne says.

"The workload in a neonatal unit is unpredictable and uneven and requires a high level of nursing skill. When there's a big demand it's difficult to pull nurses into neonatal units from other hospital wards, because the other nurses just don't have that specialist neonatal experience. It's better that the baby travels to get the specialist care in another unit. "

Though the Government spends $64 million annually on specialist neonatal care, only 2 percent of babies (about 1000) in New Zealand and Australia need this top-level intensive care. It is provided in New Zealand by specialist tertiary neonate units in Auckland, South Auckland, Waikato, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

"We have enough cots at secondary and tertiary hospitals but there are times of peak demand when babies are unable to be cared for at their nearest tertiary hospital. It's much better for everyone if the baby and mother travels to a neonatal unit that can provide access to the best skilled staff. That's the bottomline."

"Neonatal care is a national service that is closely monitored on a daily basis through a national website. At any one time we know exactly where the cots and the best staffed units are. That's very re-assuring for families."

For more information please contact:

Christine Field, Communications, Ministry of Health ph 04 496 2115


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