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Short-term neonatal pressures being managed

Hon Steve Chadwick
Associate Minister of Health

31 July 2008 Media Statement

Short-term neonatal pressures being managed

The annual short-term pressure on neonatal intensive care unit cots is being well handled, Associate Health Minister Steve Chadwick said today.

"I acknowledge that cot numbers are tight, as they always are at this time of year, and staff around the country are working incredibly hard to ensure babies and their families continue to receive safe care. New Zealand has one of the best neonatal birth survival rates in the world,” Steve Chadwick said.

Steve Chadwick reassured parents today and clarified neonatal intensive care capacity following media reports of shortages.

“At present there are at least 80 neonatal intensive care (level-3) cots, with capacity to increase, depending on staffing. What this figure doesn’t show is the flexibility that our neo-natal system has to provide additional care.

“Following a 2004 review of neonatal care, this government expanded the provision of neo-natal care. In 2006 Middlemore hospital had its capacity doubled from 6 to 12 intensive care cots, and level-3 cot numbers will increase to 86 from early 2009, when both Wellington and Hamilton neonatal units open.

“We run a national neonatal intensive care service, and babies and their families are looked after as close to home as possible. From time to time, due to clinical reasons, or when units are temporarily full, babies are transferred to other units to receive care. I’m confident that we’re able to manage this short term demand.

“There are a range of options available when neonatal units become full, including increasing intensive care capacity within units, using additional nurses within hospitals, moving babies and their mothers to other units, and where necessary, utilising care in Australia.

“These are normal processes for dealing with what is an annual short-term pressure, and I’m confident that we’re able to continue to manage this demand.

Ms Chadwick said the overflow contingency arrangements for neonatal care in New Zealand have always involved women and babies being transferred to the most suitable facility where they could receive safe care.

“I am advised that the current ‘busyness’ in units is to be expected at this time of year, and there is sufficient capacity around the country. I have also asked the Ministry of Health to explore the use of a national co-ordinator for neo-natal intensive care provision across the country, which will ensure that short-term pressures are identified early and addressed before they occur.”


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