A “VERY small number” of mothers-to-be are being transferred away from the SWAH before giving birth as a result of the current staffing crisis at the hospital’s neonatal unit.
Currently, as a result of staff shortages, the number of specialist cots operating at the SWAH neonatal unit has been reduced from six to two, and the hospital is currently only providing emergency and stabilisation for sick or premature babies born there.
Mothers deemed to be high risk or who were below 34 weeks gestation have always been transferred away from the Enniskillen hospital for specialist care. However, as a result of the chronic staff shortages at the unit, this threshold has now been lifted to 36 weeks as a safety precaution, the Western Trust confirmed last week.
Mary McKenna, assistant director of healthcare and lead nurse of women and children’s services at the Trust, said that threshold had varied over the years, as had the number of mothers-to-be being transferred. For example, she said there was just one mother transferred last year, while there had been five the year before.
When speaking to the Herald, Ms McKenna did not have recent figure for the number of transfers, but said it was “very small” and “certainly less than five.”
“Mothers would be transferred out if they were in some high risk categories,” she explained.
“So it has always been the position there were ladies who were in one of the categories where they were deemed to be high risk.
“We wouldn’t have taken high risk deliveries into the South West Acute because we don’t have an intensive care neonatal unit.”
Ms McKenna said it was safer to transfer a woman while their baby was still in-utero, but if a woman came in who was already in labour they would wait until after delivery to transfer them or the baby.
She explained that if the baby needed respiratory support, for example, it would have to transferred as that was not available at the SWAH. Adding that would always have been the case, regardless of the current situation at the SWAH neonatal unit, Ms McKenna acknowledged that such situations caused difficulties for parents, and said charity Tiny Life had been providing invaluable support to Fermanagh families who were having to travel.
Speaking at a recent Trust media briefing on the SWAH neonatal unit, Ms McKenna said the Western Trust was doing all it could to address the neonatal staffing issues with a view of re-opening all six specialist cots at the hospital.
“We’re trying to get our staffing stabilised again so that we can open,” she said. “At the minute, the deliveries remain very much the same as what they area.
The numbers who have had to transfer out, between the 34 and the 36 weeks, it’s not big numbers.
In fact, it’s less than five.
“It’s a very small number of mothers who have had to move out in-utero.”
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