HRH Countess of Wessex has today formally opened the £1.2m expansion of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Ashford and St. Peter's Hospitals NHS Trust. The expansion makes it one of the largest Intensive care units for sick babies in Surrey and Sussex.

The NICU, which is based in the Abbey Wing at St. Peter’s, has been expanded from four (4) Intensive Care cots and three (3) High Dependency cots to eight (8) Intensive Care and four (4) High Dependency. This will make it a ‘Level Three Unit’, and will allow it to provide care for 95 per cent of babies born in west Surrey, as well as some from further a field.

The project has been developed in four phases in order to minimise disruption to the NICU which has remained open during the works. The first and second phases saw the creation of a new reception area, and the conversion of a series of unused side rooms into the new eight cot intensive care area. Phases three and four have created the new High Dependency area and the Special Care area. As part of the works teaching and meeting rooms have also been refurbished.

The main contractors for the work, chosen through open competition, were Cuffe plc.. Working very closely with staff on the unit to ensure that work went smoothly and that the babies are not disturbed The whole project was completed on time and on budget.

Consultant Paediatrician Dr Jean Bowyer said: “We are very pleased that the works are now complete and the Unit is formally open. This follows many months of planning and development as the building work was phased. This new Unit will enable us to care for many more seriously ill babies in a better environment for babies, parents and staff.” Dr Bowyer continued: “We are deeply grateful to everyone who has given up their time and put in the effort to raise the funds to equip the new unit. Individuals and organisations have been so generous that we have been overwhelmed by their kindness.”

The expansion of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) was paid for equally by the Trust and by Surrey and Sussex Strategic Health Authority. The decision was made at the start of the process to use all the £1.2m to produce the best facilities possible. In order to then provide the best equipment possible the Early Births Fund (EBF) was launched in June 2003. The total raised so far is £215,000 and this has enabled the new facilities to be provided with equipment including three high tech cots at a cost of £80,000 each. The Fund is well on the way to raising the remaining £35,000 to reach the target of £250,000.

The NICU provides medical care when appropriate to all neonates, ranging from 23 weeks gestation to term. Links with specialist units in London provide neonatal surgery and transfer babies back for post operative care. The unit, set in a modern environment, has the latest in high tech equipment for treatment and monitoring purposes, and provides all modes of ventilation. The Unit also has a Breast Milk Bank which enables extremely premature babies to receive pasteurized breast milk when their mothers are unable to produce adequate quantities. This avoids the use of formula milk which is less easily tolerated by these babies. Following discharge, continued support at home is provided by two Community Sisters. Parents are encouraged to visit and participate in the care of their baby, and the recently opened Gallagher Suite provides accommodation for parents to stay on the unit prior to taking their baby home, or if their baby is seriously ill. Whilst previously providing intensive care for other hospitals in the region, St Peter’s NICU is now working in a Neonatal Network with East Surrey Hospital, Frimley Park Hospital and Royal Surrey County Hospital, with St Peter’s providing the lead for intensive care (Level 3 Unit). The Unit also hosts the Neonatal Transport Team for the Surrey Network, working closely with the Kent and Sussex network teams, retrieving and transporting sick babies.


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