HOSPITAL bosses want to downgrade Macclesfield’s neonatal unit in a move that would see some premature babies travel to Leighton or Stepping Hill for treatment.

Macclesfield’s neonatal unit is classed as a ‘level two’ service, which should admit babies delivered after 28 weeks, but it currently only admits babies delivered after 31 weeks or twins after 32 weeks.

The unit is understaffed for a ‘level two’ service and East Cheshire NHS Trust, which runs Macclesfield District General Hospital, says it cannot afford to recruit up to the required level.

Now, the trust is looking to downgrade the unit to a ‘level one’ service – also known as a ‘special care baby unit’ – which only admits babies delivered after 32 weeks.

It estimates that around three babies out of the 1,500 born at Macclesfield Hospital each year would be affected.

In a report which will go to a Cheshire East Council committee later this week, Kath Senior, director of nursing and quality at the trust, said: “This is essentially a change of the unit’s title in response to current national standards, with the only significant outcome being that approximately three additional premature babies will be transferred to larger neighbouring units each year.

Knutsford Guardian:

“This would be as a result of the unit changing its acceptance criteria by one week’s gestation so that only babies of 32 weeks and above gestation would be admitted.”

Macclesfield’s neonatal unit, which is close to the hospital’s maternity wards, has eight cots and cares for around 140 babies a year.

East Cheshire NHS Trust says that a recent peer review found the current service ‘delivers good clinical care and positive outcomes’.

But it is understaffed for a ‘level two’ service overnight and at weekends, where there is just one doctor providing cover for both the neonatal unit and the paediatric ward, rather than the two dedicated doctors a ‘level two’ unit requires.

Commissioners NHS England and the Cheshire and Mersey Neonatal Network have supported the move, with East Cheshire NHS Trust insisting the unit’s small size means it is ‘not practicable or affordable’ to meet the staffing requirements of a ‘level two’ service.

Multiple pregnancies with more than twins and women who are deemed at ‘high risk’ are already referred to other units outside Macclesfield.

Infants requiring intensive care, specialist surgery or ventilation of more than six hours are transferred to the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital or Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, in Liverpool.

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During 2016-17, there were 16 babies transferred to other neonatal units from Macclesfield.

The proposal will be discussed by CEC’s health and adult social care and communities overview and scrutiny committee on Thursday.

Subject to approval from NHS England, the change would take place in October.