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Caring for our smallest and youngest patients

30 January 2024 - Premature babies need specialist care and support, and often spend many months in hospital. In the latest issue of Inside King’s, we meet the staff who look after them

An estimated 58,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year – and as a provider of specialist services, King’s treats some of the sickest and smallest.

Indeed, the smallest survivor treated by the neonatal team at King’s was born at just 22 weeks gestation, and weighed only 395 grams – the average weight of a baby born in the UK is 3,300 grams.

The service – including a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at King’s, and a Local Neonatal Unit at the PRUH – offers a vital service for babies who need pre-birth care, or additional support at the time of birth.

A dedicated team

The Trust’s neonatal service is run by a multi-disciplinary team, all of whom play a vital role in supporting babies, and their parents, for whom the neonatal journey can be an emotional and challenging one.

Dr Ravindra Bhat, Lead Consultant Neonatologist for NICU at King’s College Hospital, said mothers-to-be are sometimes referred to the unit when problems are spotted during routine maternity scans.

“They will come to us if there needs to be a pre-birth intervention, or if specialist support needs to be provided at the time of birth, or afterwards” he said.

“There are all sorts of reasons why patients would be referred to us; for example, there are situations when it is decided early in a woman’s pregnancy that her baby may need an operation shortly after being born. There are also emergency situations that occur during birth when our expertise is needed.”

The service currently consists of six intensive care nurseries where babies receive round the clock care and an isolation room for babies that are the most vulnerable. Additionally, there are facilities to carry out emergency and laser eye surgery on very sick term and pre-term babies.

At the PRUH, we also have a Transitional Care Unit, which is a new service for those babies who require minimal neonatal support. This unit is helping reduce the need for some babies to be admitted to neonatal intensive care, and also means mothers are not separated from their babies.

Funding boost

The Trust’s neonatal service will soon be expanding, thanks to a £13 million investment into the service.

The funding will be used to increase the number of neonatal cots, so increasing the number of babies our teams can treat, with sick babies from across south east England regularly transferred to us for treatment, due to the specialist treatment we provide.

Rashmi Gandhi, Lead Consultant Neonatologist for LNU at PRUH, welcomed the additional funding:

“In line with the national pledge to halve pre-term deaths by 2025, this expansion will help with delivery of high quality care across King’s, and will also enable us to put additional measures in place for babies that need follow-up with neuro-development specialists for two years,” she said.

The Local Neonatal Unit at the PRUH is also undergoing a refurbishment that will both increase capacity and enable the team to take on more complex cases.

Vivette Wallen-Mitchell, Lead Nurse for Neonatal at the PRUH, said: “Given the population growth around the PRUH, it’s important to improve and expand the neonatal services that the hospital offers, which will also mean that babies facing more complex challenges can be delivered at PRUH.”

This feature appears in the latest issue of our Inside King’s magazine.