Southmead Hospital Bristol's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit celebrates World Prematurity Day

Monday, 17 November 2014

Staff, volunteers and parents are celebrating World Prematurity Day at Southmead Hospital Bristol.

The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at the hospital was among the first units in the country when it was opened in 1946 by Dr Beryl Corner and has been providing pioneering care for premature babies ever since.

To mark World Prematurity Day staff and volunteers at the North Bristol NHS Trust NICU put together a collage of babies cared for on the unit with photos showing how they are doing months, years and even decades on.

Staff and volunteers in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Soutmead Hospital Bristol celebrate World Prematurity DayAmong the people featured in the college is Elaine Hood (centre, front) who was born at 26 weeks back in 1962 and was cared for in the NICU – now she works as one of the housekeepers on the unit.

She weighed just 1lb 14 oz when she was born 52 years ago.

Since starting work on the NICU Elaine’s own grandsons have also benefited from care on the unit having also been born early.

“I think it is amazing really, I heard stories growing up about how tiny I was,” she said.

“I didn’t expect to work here and to have my grandsons come here as well. They are absolutely fantastic here.

“It’s a lovely place to work and lovely when the little ones come back in.

“I think it’s very important for mums and dads to know how well babies do when they leave the unit and that there are people here willing to help them.”

The NICU at Southmead cares for about 700 babies a year, although not all of them need the support of the unit because they have been born prematurely. About 130-150 of the babies on the unit are born at less than 28 weeks.

Lisa Ramsey lead developmental care nurse at the NICU said that she has seen a lot of changes in her 18 years on the unit.

“We have better delivery room processes now, babies are placed in plastic bags to keep them warm, and there are better transfer procedures to bring them to NICU,” she said.

“We have better equipment now, the incubators are all better and the ventilators, and we know a lot more about ventilating babies now.

“We are also better at handling babies and thinking about what stresses babies.”

Lisa said that when she started on the unit babies born at 25/26 weeks were the ones that needed extreme support to survive while now it is the babies being born at 23/24 weeks.

“I think we have probably reached the limit in terms of how early we can save babies, now the emphasis is on giving them a better quality of life,” she said.

The unit now has parent volunteers who support families when their babies are being cared for on the unit.

Lisa said that when she started on the unit babies born at 25/26 weeks were the ones that needed the most support while now there are babies coming in at 23/24 weeks.

“I think we have probably reached the limit in terms of how early we can save babies, now the emphasis is on giving them a better quality of life,” she said.

The NICU now has parent volunteers who support families when their babies are being cared for on the unit.

Kerry Robinson and Catherine Miles both spent time in the NICU at Southmead with their babies and now speak to parents on the unit as part of a partnership with premature baby charity Bliss.

Kerry’s daughter Amber was born at 34 weeks and is now three and a half.

“We just let parents know that we are around in the coffee room if they want to chat,” she said.

“I always say that I was a parent here, and it I nice to be able to say that we see babies who were here at our support group and tell them how they are getting on, it gives them hope.”

Catherine’s son Harry was born at 26 weeks and spent three months in neonatal care, two of them at Southmead Hospital.

“Being here just gives us the opportunity to talk to parents and provide support and information, anything that really makes a little difference can go a long way,” she said.

“I always liken coming to NICU as like landing on the moon, one minute you are having what is often a normal pregnancy and then you are here and there are lots of people and often you don’t know about this environment. When you meet a parent that has been here and can relate to that it can help.”

As well as putting together a collage staff and volunteers baked cakes for a coffee morning on the unit as part of World Prematurity Day.