New technology tracks down intensive care cots for babies

Doctors in Britain will soon be able to use new technology to quickly find intensive care cots for premature or sick babies.

The launch of an online cot locator system promises to release hospital staff from hours of ringing around hospitals across the country if a woman goes into labour early and they have no neonatal intensive care unit or no cot available in neonatal intensive care.

The new government-funded computer system means all available cots in England will be able to be located in seconds and staff will also have access to information on the distance and the time needed to reach the location.

The system will initially link the 40 neonatal units that provide the highest level of neonatal care, level three, but it will ultimately cover all 179 units that offer level two care - for babies who still need breathing support but are not on ventilators - or level one care, for the least sick premature babies.

The system will serve to reduce the distress of parents and minimise the risk to babies; more than 2,100 are transferred from one hospital to another each year because they need special treatment.

One in eight babies needs to be looked after in a neonatal unit at some point, and about 17,000 babies a year will require intensive care.

In the main, social trends are to blame, such as women giving birth later in life, IVF pregnancies boosting the number of multiple births and more teenage mothers.

But advances in medicine and technology also means that more premature babies are now able to survive.

The Department of Health expects the vast majority of such transfers to take place within the same "network" of hospitals, a group of about five hospitals clustered around a major neonatal unit and within a radius of about 40 miles of each other, however more than half occur beyond each network.

According to the premature baby charity Bliss, three babies a day are transported out of each network - with the average transfer being 126 miles and one baby last year was transported 286 miles.

Such events only serve to increase the emotional and financial burden for parents, and often lead to families being temporarily separated.

Bliss has welcomed the move, and says they hope a significant impact on the crucial issue of available cots and transfers for babies in need of intensive care will be seen.

Bliss says however that the underlying problem of not enough available cots with qualified nurses remains unresolved.

The average number of cots available last year was 957 and 17,000 of the 42,000 premature babies born each year require level three care.

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