THE plans to downgrade the special care baby unit (SCBU) at Hinchingbrooke Hospital (The Hunts Post, April 13) are likely to cause severe hardship to parents and families without realising any significant cost savings.
Our daughter was born at Hinchingbrooke at 29 weeks' gestation in September 2008, and spent more than 13 weeks in hospital.
Although it was a very stressful experience, the burden was eased by the unit's small size, which enabled us to get to know many of the staff and other parents, and by its proximity to our home in Godmanchester, which made journeys back and forth for the long hours at the hospital a little more manageable.
The care received was excellent, and we have nothing but praise for the paediatricians and nurses at the unit.
By contrast, at about eight weeks old, our daughter was taken seriously ill and had to be transferred to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge, where she spent about 10 days before returning to Hinchingbrooke.
Although the quality of care was again very good, once out of intensive care, it was much more impersonal and with a far lower ration of nurses to patients than in SCBU.
While we were lucky to be able to stay on site at Addenbrooke's for the first few days, thanks to the Sick Children's Trust, once I returned to work, my wife (who doesn't drive) was left with a two-and-a-half-hour journey on two buses each way through the A14 and Cambridge city centre traffic to visit our daughter.
Without a car, evening and Sunday visits would be nigh on impossible, and there would be no chance of getting to the hospital quickly in an emergency.
Had Hinchingbrooke SCBU been downgraded, our daughter would have been faced with transfer to Addenbrooke's (or, worse still, Norwich) immediately after birth, with all the risks of transport.
This would also have meant being separated from my wife, who was herself not well enough to leave hospital, with all the negative emotional impacts of this.
Many families would face even more severe hardship. Often they have older children with childcare needs and school commitments to be considered. In cases of twins or multiple births, often one or more will be at home while the other is in SCBU.
Trying to manage the logistics of this with a hospital much further away would just add far more stress at what is often an extremely painful and difficult time.
The intensive care area of SCBU, which would be closed if the downgrading went ahead, accommodates only three babies, and is in a room right in the middle of the unit. As the whole unit holds only around 12 babies, it would not make sense to leave a room empty in the unit and reduce the unit's capacity to nine. So I presume the current capacity would be maintained and the intensive care area changed into three further 'standard' cots.
If so, I cannot see how there would be any significant savings in staff costs, and they might actually need to purchase more 'standard' equipment to replace the intensive care facilities that are already owned.
Whoever is making the decision on this proposal really needs to think through the impact on babies and their families rather than just looking at cost savings, which are at best dubious.