A long-awaited, 24-hour, national neonatal transport service is expected to be launched next week.
Around 4,500 children are born prematurely every year in Ireland and account for 6% of all births.
Because of Ireland’s uneven population density, many regional hospitals are not able to offer the specialist care that premature babies need.
The national transport service has carried over 4,000 premature babies needing specialist hospital care (about 300 a year) since it was established in 1999.
However, it has operated mainly during office hours, with neonatal nurses from the referring hospitals helping with neonatal transport, either alone or with a medical colleague, outside of these hours.
The expanded service for pre-term infants is the result of the collaborative efforts by the parent-led charity, Irish Premature Babies, and the clinical lead of the HSE Neonatology Programme, John Murphy.
“The delivery of this 24/7 neonatal transportation service will be one of the biggest advances for neonatal care in Ireland,” said Dr Murphy when he addressed a conference in Dublin yesterday to mark World Prematurity Day.
The service, which is capable of mobilising within 45 minutes of receiving a call, is expected to attend to 400 premature babies when it is available around the clock.
Dedicated ambulance teams are trained in how to manage premature babies so their condition remains stable while being carried from one hospital to another.
Dr Murphy said it was widely agreed that there should be no geographical disadvantage in getting medical treatment in Ireland.
Irish Premature Babies’ family liaison officer Mandy Daly said the campaign group had been working with Dr Murphy over the past three years to raise awareness of the growing incidence of pre-term birth in Ireland.
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