Influx of at-risk babies stretches Waikato unit

16:00, Dec 07 2012

Expectant mothers have been flown to hospitals as far away as Invercargill to give birth as Waikato Hospital copes with a massive influx of at-risk newborn babies.

Waikato District Health Board spokeswoman Mary Anne Gill told the Times yesterday they were "over capacity" in the level 3 section of their neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

And so far, to cope with demand, two low-risk expectant mothers had been flown to other hospitals to give birth - one to Invercargill and one to Whakatane.

"We do, from time to time, transfer babies in utero to other hospitals . . . This is normal practice when capacity is reached," she said.

She said it was unlikely that those mothers would return to Waikato Hospital. Waikato houses one of six level 3 (intensive care) newborn units throughout New Zealand. The others are at Auckland, Middlemore, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

Babies admitted to these nurseries are the most intensive, expensive and complex cases and include babies requiring high levels of observation and respiratory support.


Ms Gill said their usual capacity for level 3 was 17 babies, but they had been over that this week, with 23 to 27 babies at a time.

She said capacity started to become over-stretched last week and they expected the trend to continue for at least another week. The babies were in mainly for problems related to premature births or surgical reasons.

"Fortunately, our lower-acuity babies have been low in number during the same period," she said.

She said other level 3 units around New Zealand were also very full.

Ms Gill said staff in the NICU had been working "above and beyond" - doing extra shifts to meet demand.

Staff from other parts of the hospital with neonatal experience had also worked some shifts.

Some babies had also been transferred to Rotorua and Tauranga Hospitals.

But Ms Gill said these were babies who were from those areas and who were ready to be transferred back anyway.

Waikato's NICU has seven nurseries, five of which are level 3 nurseries, with state-of-the-art incubators and respiratory equipment. The entire capacity for the NICU is 41.

About 1000 newborns a year go through Waikato Hospital's NICU.

Waikato Times