SNP downgrade of neonatal unit is a monumental mistake – Jackie Baillie

SNP MSPs are turning a deaf ear to the problems caused by the Scottish Government’s plans to centralise intensive care for premature babies in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen

It doesn’t take years of clinical experience to know that when a baby’s health is compromised it’s best to keep them close to their mums and for these mothers to be supported by their families. Yet separating mothers and families from vulnerable newborns is what the logical result of downgrading the Wishaw Neonatal Unit, which serves Lanarkshire, would deliver.

University Hospital Wishaw’s neonatal intensive care unit is an award-winning service. It was the best in the UK. Dedicated staff saved 23 premature babies’ lives last year, a figure comparable to Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen where the SNP government wants to centralise all of Scotland’s intensive care for premature babies.

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The Wishaw unit has level three status, meaning it’s capable of looking after the most extremely premature and vulnerable newborns. Despite its success and expertise, serving the population of the third largest health board, the Scottish Government has decided to reduce Wishaw to level two status – with no credible explanation for downgrading the UK’s best-performing neonatal unit.

Centralising services will lead to more strain on families and worsen health outcomes but there are serious questions about capacity if there are only three units in Scotland. The grounds on which ministers have based their decision are seriously flawed.

No consideration was given to population deprivation factors, to the lack of transport links for families, to the inequality that will be caused, or to how mothers and families will be separated from the community networks which sustain them.

NHS Lanarkshire was not represented on the working group which came up with the plan, yet other health boards were. There has been no consultation with stakeholders and no consultation with the staff at the neonatal unit and no up-to-date, evidence-based data.

The Wishaw proposals, opposed by NHS Lanarkshire medical staff, by all oppositon parties, and by a 12,000-signature petition started by concerned parents were debated in Holyrood on Wednesday. Parents told their stories and explained that the survival of some babies will be put at risk by the downgrade.

We called on the minister to listen and reverse the decision. But the pleas were heard by a tone-deaf Jenni Minto, the public health minister, and SNP MSPs stuffed cotton wadding into their own ears and voted to back the downgrade.

For the SNP and Greens to put party loyalty before vulnerable children and their families is little short of appalling. But what is truly shameful is that so many SNP MSPs representing Lanarkshire chose to side with the government instead of standing up for their constituents. SNP MSPs had a chance to show which side they are on: the side of families and clinicians or the side of their party bosses.

I know whose side I am on. The removal of intensive care neonatal services at University Hospital Wishaw is a monumental mistake. To do so without even bothering to consult the clinicians at the unit or the families affected is an arrogant approach from government which shows how out of touch they are with the needs of women and families in Lanarkshire.

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Shame on those SNP MSPs who have a duty to stand up for their constituents and voted blindly with their government.

Jackie Baillie is MSP for Dumbarton, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader and her party’s spokesperson for health



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