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  • Writer's pictureHealthwatch Southend

Changes to neonatal care

Updated: Apr 23

Mid & South Essex Hospitals Trust, which run services at Southend Hospital, want to make permanent changes to the neonatal care unit in Southend.

What is neonatal care?

Two levels of care are offered locally to babies:

  • Level 1 Special Care Baby Unit (SCBU) – provides local care for babies born at 30 weeks’ gestation or more, and over 1000g birthweight who require only special care or short-term high dependency care

  • Level 2 Local Neonatal Unit (LNU) – provides care for all babies born at 27 weeks’ gestation or more, over 800g birthweight or multiple pregnancies over 28 weeks and may receive babies 27-29 weeks who require high dependency care

Babies with a lower birthweight, or who are even more premature, are currently cared for in specialist units outside Essex, such as the Homerton or Addenbrookes.  They may be delivered there, or transferred in a specialist ambulance once it is safe to do so.  This happened on 18 occasions in 2023.

What happened in 2023?

Last year, Southend Hospital stopped admitting babies born before 32 weeks because of concerns about medical staffing levels and space limitations. This meant that 14 mothers/birthing people had their babies cared for at either Basildon or Broomfield Hospitals, or another unit, out of about 3500 deliveries.  This is only a snapshot, we know.

The Trust now wants to make this permanent. 


To provide the best quality care to young babies needs a certain number to be admitted to the level 2 cots.  This means that clinical staff keep their skills up to date, in line with guidance from professional bodies.  The level 2 cots are only occupied on average for 19% of the time.  However, consultant paediatricians have to be available for any admission and cannot work in other areas.   Like many Trusts, recruiting paediatricians is not easy, so the Trust is using temporary consultants. Clinicians in the East of England and nationally agree that the changes in Mid & South Essex deliver the best for babies.

The current space is not the best, with limited space and other estates issues.  Tackling these could cost up to £2 million.  This would not necessarily make it easier to recruit permanent consultant paediatricians.


What does this permanent change mean?

Some mothers/birthing people may have a birthing plan which means they will be booked in to either Basildon or Broomfield Hospitals to  deliver, allowing their baby to be admitted straight to the neonatal unit.  Once their baby can be discharged, this may be back to Southend Hospital, if care is still needed.  If a very premature baby is born at Southend Hospital, it will be cared for until a transfer is arranged to Basildon or Broomfield (or outside Essex) in a special ambulance.

The Trust understands that getting to another hospital site is not easy for many families and is working to make sure that care is transferred back to Southend as quickly as possible.

What other benefits are there?

Children in Southend would also benefit from releasing time for the consultant paediatricians to spend more time in the children’s accident and emergency department, as well as the paediatric assessment unit (where children with more urgent needs are referred by their GP).  Waiting times for outpatient clinics could also improve. 

There are more children in this group than would be affected by the changes to neonatal care. 

What do you think?

The Trust has consulted Southend City Council, who raised objections to the proposal. You can view the meeting here:

We would like to know what local people think about the Trust's plans. There are benefits - like more senior doctors in Children's A&E, but increased travel time and costs is a downside if your baby needs care in Basildon or Broomfield Hospitals. Let us know what you think by completing our survey before 5 May, 2024 :

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