Mum leads fight for neo-natal intensive care unit

Mum Hannah Thornton and her daughter Ilythia (S)
Mum Hannah Thornton and her daughter Ilythia (S)
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A young mum is urging families to badger health bosses to keep the neonatal intensive care unit in Burnley.

NHS England is re-assessing specialised care and argues it is financially better to have specialisms centralised. It is launching a consultation exercise in January.

Grateful mum Hannah Thornton (23) fears Burnley’s highly-praised NICU centre could be in the firing line if the board of NHS England opts to send all poorly babies to a regional centre at St Mary’s, Manchester.

Her own daughter, Ilythia, spent 101 days in the Burnley unit after being prematurely born at 24 weeks. She is now two and a half.

“The staff there are absolutely amazing,” said Hannah. “They are the best people, ever.

“All the poorly babies from round here come to the neonatal unit in Burnley. There is nothing at Blackburn and the next nearest place is St Mary’s, Manchester, and that is always full.

“If a child is poorly and they have to travel all that way there it will mean they will only have a slim chance to live.

“The first hour is the most critical in their life, otherwise it is too late.”

Baby Ilythia was born in August, 2012, and only allowed to join her family in Belgrave Street, Nelson, at the end of November. Doctors kept her on home oxygen until the new year.

“Everything has been fine since then,” said Hannah. “She is perfect.”

Former Wetherspoons barmaid Hannah had not heard of the neonatal unit before its medical and nursing staff saved her baby’s life.

“There must be others like me who have never come across it,” she said. “People do not realise the work they do. It is a big part of Burnley and has a good reputation. If NHS England were to close it, it would inevitably mean babies dying. People would be grieving for babies who needn’t die.

“Before we needed neonatal care I had no idea about the work they do. They are absolutely wonderful people - and if it goes it will be too late for local babies, because it won’t be there any more.”

A spokesman for NHS England said there are no decision had been made about moving neonatal care. There are no current clinical safety concerns and issues such as travel and accessibility are always considered as part of a review.

She added: “NHS England is responsible for commissioning specialised services and places a high priority on driving improvements in service quality and outcomes. This ensures that all patients receive high quality care, no matter where they live.

“A portfolio of nationally consistent service specifications that cover all specialised services was produced in summer 2013 and these highlighted the standards that all providers across England must meet. For some services, NHS England identified a need to undertake a review to ensure the model of care was right for the service.

“For the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, there are 6 specialised services that will now be reviewed. Neonatal critical care is one of these services. This review of services is not about assessing viability – it is about working to ensure that all specialised services meet national service specifications to improve clinical outcomes for patients. All Key stakeholders will be involved in the review ... including all of the hospitals involved in providing each specialised service, in order to review the key issues in meeting the requirements of national service specifications and clinical policies.

“There are currently no clinical safety concerns regarding these services and no decisions have been made regarding whether they move from East Lancashire Trust or are delivered differently as the work in these areas has not yet been completed. Issues such as accessibility and travel times for patients and carers are very important and these will certainly be taken into account as part of the strategic service reviews that are undertaken.