by MARY MAGEE
A MOIRA woman who was rushed to a Scottish hospital to give birth to triplets born prematurely because of a shortage of neonatal beds in Northern Ireland has backed a campaign at Stormont calling for more specialist nurses and investment to give premature babies here the best possible chance of survival.
Davina Greer, who sadly lost one of the triplets, Harry, through an infection, got first hand experience of the lack of neonatal beds in Northern Ireland when her babies were born on August 7, 2006.
Already a mother-of-two Davina discovered she was having triplets early into her pregnancy and was referred to the Royal Jubilee Maternity Hospital in Belfast.
Davina, 32, says that at no time was she warned when she was carrying her triplets that if she went into premature labour that her babies would be born outside Northern Ireland.
At 16 weeks she was booked into the Royal, where she expected her babies would be born.
From 24 weeks Davina started going in and out of labour and for the next few weeks she made frequent trips to the emergency department at the maternity hospital arid at 27 weeks was admitted with contractions.
Staff at the Royal had to tell her they did not have room to cater for the triplets and she would have to go elsewhere.
Despite trying every hospital in Ireland, both north and south, medical staff could not get three neonatal cots available together. Using their Critical Care Transport Service Davina and her husband, with a single midwife, were taken to Scotland on a private plane to the Princess Royal Maternity in Glasgow where she was given drugs to restrict the labour.
She was given just two hours notice to get her other two children Matthew then (3) and William (7), cared for and their bags pocked.
"Never did I think or was I told during my pregnancy that I would have to go to Scotland to have my babies delivered," she said.
"We had absolutely no idea. Then when we got to Scotland we were left to our own devices."
When they got to Scotland, a specialist scan revealed the oxygen and blood flow going to one of babies was being restricted and on August 7 Davina had an emergency C-Section, giving birth to Charlie who was horn first weighing 2lb, then Owen at 2lb 2 and Harry was 1lb 12. The boys were ventilated and taken immediately to intensive care.
Harry however developed an infection and further complications such as NEC - an infection of the bowels found in many premature babies. He died at just 23 days old.
As well as dealing with all the trauma, and two other critically ill babies, the family had the difficult task of finding themselves accommodation. So desperate were they that they had to turn to the media to get accommodation.
Accommodation was found but Davina, who was still recovering from a caesarean, had to walk five miles each day to get into the hospital to see her babies, to save money.
"We were left completely to our own devices," she said. "We were dealing with three critically ill babies and as well as that trauma, we had to find somewhere to stay.
It was a nightmare. Someone should have been there to help us. It was ridiculous. There was no liaison officer, nothing. Whatever the circumstances when there is a high risk multiple birth someone should should have warned us that something like this could have happened and someone should have been there to help us. We did not even know how to bring Harry home " The two other children were eventually taken back to the Royal in Belfast and then transferred for a third time, to Craigavon.
Within weeks Owen was allowed home and four weeks later Charlie also finally came home.
From her experience Davina knows only too well how understaffed neonatal units are and has backed the campaign.
THE new report which Davina was at Stormont to support, Every Baby Matters, was Compiled by three leading baby charities.
It highlights several problem areas affecting Northern Ireland's maternity and neonatal services contributing to the deaths of over 200 babies and affecting the care of 2,000 sick and premature babies and their families every year.
The three charities, Bliss, the special care baby charity, Sands, the Stillbirth and neonatal death charity, and Tiny Life, the premature baby charity fear Northern Ireland are calling on the Northern Ireland Executive to ensure that stillbirths and neonatal deaths are recognised as a major public health issue, improve the care for premature and sick babies and support the delivery of front line services to families.
The report says that in 2007 around 2,000 sick and premature babies were admitted to neonatal care in Northern Ireland —that's one in every ten babies born.
They say there is a current shortage of at least 70 specialist nurses to meet minimum nursing standards set out by the British Association of Perinatal Medicine and 40 per cent of babies were transferred between units due to a lack of staffed cots rather than a medical reason.
And they warn that while Northern Ireland has had a culture of antenatal care and labour ward practice that emphasises close surveillance of all pregnancies, including low-risk mothers and good working relationships between midwives and doctors, the reorganisation of the country's maternity services, against the backdrop of recession, is putting pressure on services. There is concern that the closure of wards and pressures on staff could reduce the quality and safety of antenatal care.
With over half of Northern Ireland's midwives due to retire in the next ten years, the charities are concerned there will be a gap of experience within the service.
"Others are leaving before retirement age, many exhausted by the pressures of the job. While numbers of student midwifery places has increased, there are insufficient graduates to fill vacancies and a growing imbalance in experience levels. More must be done to retain experienced midwives and accelerate numbers of new midwives coming through training" they say.