Plans to downgrade top neonatal unit branded 'monumental mistake'

The Scottish Government is considering consolidating intensive neonatal care in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

Campaign to stop downgrade of University Hospital Wishaw’s neonatal unit to be debated by MSPs Lynne McRitchie

Plans to downgrade an award-winning neonatal unit have been branded a “monumental mistake” ahead of a discussion by MSPs.

Over 12,000 people have now backed a campaign urging the Scottish Government to rethink plans to downgrade University Hospital Wishaw’s neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The Scottish Government are currently considering recommendations to consolidate intensive neonatal care into three large units in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen.

This would result in the downgrading of multiple units currently carrying out the specialist care to some of the country’s most vulnerable babies from a level three to level two.

A motion by Scottish Labour’s Jackie Baillie calling for a reversal of the plans will now be debated in parliament.

Parents who gave birth at the Wishaw unit hope the debate will be an opportunity for their stories to be heard.

The petition was launched by Lynne McRitchie who gave birth at the unit in 2019 to her son Innes, who was four months premature.

Despite being born just two days after the threshold at which life support is commonly offered, Innes is now a “thriving” four-year-old and Lynne believes he “would not have survived” if he had been transferred to another hospital.

Speaking to STV News ahead of the debate, she said: “I hope that Wednesday’s meeting can bring some humanity to the discussion.

Innes is now a 'thriving' four-year-old after being born premature at Wishaw's neonatal unit.Lynne McRitchie

“My worry is that the Scottish Government will see this as a done deal and I really hope they take the time to reflect on this.

“I hope it is a chance for the government to reconsider if they have got this right.”

The Wishaw ward, which is currently a level three unit, would become a level two facility under plans by the Scottish Government.

The changes would impact other areas as well as Wishaw, including Ninewells in Dundee and Victoria Hospital in Kirkcaldy, Fife.

Ms McRitchie said she remains concerned that families with vulnerable babies will be forced to travel far distances and end up out of pocket with accommodation costs to be near city hospitals.

She said: “They talk about keeping mums and babies together and maintaining family support, but the implementation plan undermines all of that.”

The fears have been echoed by Jackie Baillie MSP, Scottish Labour’s spokesperson on health and social care.

She told STV News: “The decision to downgrade neonatal at Wishaw is a monumental mistake.

“This award winning vital service has looked after hundreds of poorly children and the idea of services being centralised will only lead to more strain on families.

“Scottish Labour is calling on the SNP government to abandon its unfair and damaging plans and to maintain the level three status of the Wishaw Neonatal unit.”

Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon has also called for the plans to be reversed and has been supporting families in the campaign.

She told STV News: “I have had some really insightful conversations with mums and families as well as people who work at the unit.

“I think many of the staff at the unit also feel very in the dark about all of this.

“Hopefully with the speaking time for MSPs we can amplify the experiences of families who have not been consulted.

“Ultimately we do not want this to happen. The staff work so hard to give babies the best possible chance to thrive. Just on a human level, the stories I have heard have been really, really moving.

“A main concern is that families are going to have to travel long distances and this could mean separation.”

Judith Park, NHS Lanarkshire director of acute services, previously told STV News that the health board were “extremely disappointed” in the decision.

She added: “We accept the recommendations of the Best Start report for a new model of neonatal intensive care and will work alongside Scottish Government, staff within our neonatal unit at University Hospital Wishaw and the local population on the next steps following this announcement.

“Our dedicated staff will remain committed to providing the highest standard of neonatal care to babies and families in Lanarkshire.”

The Scottish Government previously said units such as Wishaw will continue to provide “a level of neonatal intensive care” and that “the decision to move to three national Neonatal Intensive Care Units has been made in line with strong evidence and advice from expert clinicians that specialist care will deliver improved outcomes for the smallest and sickest babies born in Scotland”.

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