Specialist support for critically ill babies

A mock baby in an incubator.
A mock baby in an incubator.

Staff in Western Isles Hospital now have instant access to specialist neonatal advice and support 24/7, as a result of new technology which could ultimately help save the lives of critically ill babies.

A live videolink in the neonatal area of the Maternity Unit of Western Isles Hospital was set up this month to provide direct access to consultant neonatologists at Yorkhill Royal Hospital for Sick Children, Glasgow.

The link will be invaluable to staff in the Western Isles; providing access to expert support to stabilise premature or ill babies before they are transferred to Glasgow by air ambulance.

Catherine MacDonald, NHS Western Isles Senior Midwifery Manager, said: “With this technology, we can access highly specialist services locally. A consultant neonatologist is always available to provide our local midwives and paediatrician with expert support and advice as we’re waiting for the transport team to arrive to transfer a baby to the mainland.

“The neonatologist in Glasgow is able to use the technology to zoom the camera in so closely that they can check the baby’s colour and condition, and can even help guide a tiny cannula into a vein.

“The baby would be connected to a monitor in the cot, so the specialist in Glasgow would also have access to that vital information. The quality of the image provided through the new technology is second to none.”

Mrs MacDonald continued: “We can also use the technology in situations where we are unsure if a baby needs to be transferred. That assessment can be made by specialists in Yorkhill, and they can make immediate arrangements to come and pick the baby up if that is required, or can provide advice in situations where the baby can be cared for on island.”

The videolink to specialist neonatologists in Yorkhill can also be used to provide reassurance directly to parents in situations when a baby is born with a certain condition (such as cleft lip and palate). The link could also eliminate the need, in some situations, to travel to the mainland for assessments before a procedure or operation, as this could be done remotely.

Hugh Lovell, a Charge Nurse in the Neonatal West Transport Team (the team responsible for transporting ill babies to the mainland), explained: “In places like the Western Isles, there could be cases where a child is experiencing symptoms that staff have never seen before.

Some of these cases could be ‘once in a career’ events. This could make for a very stressful situation for the local staff and could make it difficult for them to provide clear descriptions over the phone. This videolink technology means that it’s almost like having an experienced consultant in the room, and the consultant can see exactly what’s happening and monitor the situation in real time, while the air ambulance team are on their way.”

The new equipment was provided by the Scottish Centre for Telehealth and Telecare (SCTT), which allocated funding to set up mobile videoconferencing facilities in six Rural General Hospitals in Scotland. The intention is to also get the technology set up on the Labour Ward in Western Isles Hospital; further demonstrating progress against the NHS Western Isles commitment to become a world leader in the application of telehealth to improve patient care.

Another new development that impacts positively on transfers from the Western Isles is the West of Scotland Perinatal Advisory Service (PAS), which was also launched at the beginning of the month.

The new service means that staff in the Western Isles requiring to transfer a pregnant mother or newborn baby to a mainland hospital for specialist care only need to make one phone call to the service, and a bed or cot will be located for them, with the whole process being coordinated centrally.

Previously, Western Isles staff had to phone individual hospitals to locate a bed remotely. This will provide a much more efficient and effective service for emergency patients who need to be transferred to the mainland.