THE neonatal unit at St Mary’s Hospital, Newport, has been downgraded — effective from last Sunday (September 9).

Now the unit is a level one Special Care Unit (SCU), which can care for babies who need continuous monitoring of their breathing or heart rate, born after 32 weeks.

The unit was previously a Local Neonatal Unit (LNU), equipped for babies born after 27 weeks.

Any woman with a single pregnancy below 32 weeks, and any woman with a multiple pregnancy below 34 weeks will be transferred to the mainland for alternative care.

It is estimated approximately 20 women and ten babies each year will be affected by the change.

A review by NHS England showed the LNU at St Mary’s Hospital has the lowest number of babies born anywhere in England.

There are around 1,100 births a year on the Isle of Wight and the LNU cared for 98 babies in 2017. Of those, 92 were born after 32 weeks gestation.

Babies may be transferred from the Island to a mainland unit for specialist treatment but can return to the Island as their health improves for ongoing care before discharge home.

In a statement, the Isle of Wight NHS Trust said the Island’s neonatal service had “a dedicated team of staff.”

However, it said the very low number of babies being cared for, made it difficult to ensure the team gained enough experience of caring for babies who needed short-term intensive care.

Last year the unit looked after ten babies who needed this kind of care.

The trust said the advice of expert doctors from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine was staff needed a regular caseload of babies to ensure they maintained their skills and expertise.

Dr Barbara Stuttle, director of nursing, midwifery, allied health professionals and community services said: “We recognise the difficulties presented by travel across the Solent for patients and their relatives.

“The number of families affected by this move from a Local Neonatal Unit to Special Care Unit is small but we believe that this provides the best level of expertise and safe care for babies who require specialist support.

“Improved networking between the neonatal services on the mainland and the Island will help to ensure that where a babies health improves and a lower level of care is required they are returned to the Island at the earliest opportunity.”