Mothers of premature babies protest plans to downgrade neonatal unit

Campaigners have vowed to keep pushing against Scottish Government plans to downgrade the unit in Wishaw.

Mothers of premature babies protest plans to downgrade neonatal unit at Wishaw University Hospital PA Media

Mothers of premature babies have staged a protest outside Holyrood against plans to downgrade the neonatal intensive care unit at Wishaw University Hospital.

Following a petition which has gathered more than 14,000 signatures, the campaigners vowed to keep pushing for the Scottish Government to change its plans.

Under the plans, the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) at Wishaw will be downgraded to Level 2, meaning babies born earlier than 27 weeks would need to be transferred to another hospital.

Ministers say expert advice points towards having three specialist neonatal intensive care units in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Mothers of premature babies take neonatal unit campaign to Holyrood PA Media

At a meeting inside Parliament on Thursday organised by Labour’s Dame Jackie Baillie, the campaigners voiced their concerns about what the changes will mean for parents of premature babies.

They may face long journeys to see their newborns after birth.

Lynne McRitchie – who started the petition – gave birth to her son Innes in 2019, who was four months premature.

In an emotional speech to her fellow campaigners, she said: “This started as me having a rant in my kitchen in East Kilbride.

“Now it has 14,000 signatures.”

She said mothers would struggle to breastfeed and have skin-to-skin contact with premature babies if they are in hospitals in separate cities – The Scottish Government said the vast majority of mothers will be moved before they deliver and will give birth in the hospital with a NICU.

Ms McRitchie continued: “We want the Scottish Government to pause, reflect and look at all the data again.”

The group have urged the Scottish Government to rethink its plans. PA Media

Elsie Sneddon, a midwife at the Wishaw hospital, also addressed the gathered campaigners.

She said: “Downgrading Wishaw is the worst decision this Government can make.”

Angela Tierney gave birth to her son Ollie at 27 weeks in 2019. He died five days later after being cared for at the NICU.

She praised staff at the unit and said that under the new system, Ollie would have been transferred to a hospital in another city.

She said: “My husband would then have had the choice – does he stay with his really sick wife or does he go with his critically ill baby.

“What do you do here?”

Later on Thursday, the campaigners met with public health minister Jenni Minto.

She said earlier: “Local neonatal units, including Wishaw, will continue to provide care to the vast majority of babies who need it, including a level of intensive care.

“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 improve health outcomes and save lives.

“These three units will offer specialist and complex care in fewer centres for the most pre-term and sickest babies.”

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