Neonatology deals with the unique healthcare needs of neonates, infants in their first 28 days of life.
‘Neo’ is Greek for new and ‘natal’ means to be born. The field emerged in the mid-20th century and has witnessed remarkable progress in recent decades.
Different Types of Neonatal Care Units
Neonatal Care Units provide comprehensive care to critically ill or premature babies. They are staffed by multidisciplinary teams (teams of nurses to doctors and other healthcare professionals trained in neonatology). They are classified into different levels, depending on the complexity of the care they provide:-
- Level 1: Specialist neonatal care for initial and short-term care. – also known as Special Care Baby Units (SCBU)
- Level 2: Specialist local care for neonates requiring more advanced care but not critical interventions.
- Level 3: Intensive care for critically ill newborns, very premature babies, and those with life-threatening conditions – also known as Neonatal Intensive Care Units (NICU).
Advancements in Neonatal Care
Advancements in medical technology, research, and practices have significantly improved neonatal outcomes in the UK. Some of the notable developments include:
- Respiratory Support: Innovations in mechanical ventilators, non-invasive respiratory support, and surfactant replacement therapy have greatly enhanced the survival rates of premature infants with underdeveloped lungs.
- Nutritional Support: Tailored nutrition plans, including parenteral nutrition, have been instrumental in promoting healthy growth and development in premature babies.
- Therapeutic Hypothermia: For babies at risk of brain injury, therapeutic hypothermia (also known as cooling mats) has shown promise in reducing neurological damage and improving long-term neurodevelopmental outcomes. This is a time sensitive management with strict guidelines and only applies to babies born after 36 weeks gestation. The closer to the time of birth it is used the better, but it should be used within 6 hours.
- Telemedicine: The use of telemedicine has facilitated remote consultations and support for neonatologists in more rural or underserved areas, allowing timely access to specialised care.
These teams typically consist of neonatologists, neonatal nurses, respiratory therapists, occupational therapists, and other healthcare professionals, all working collaboratively to provide holistic care to the infants and support to their families.
Family Centred Care
Recognising the importance of family involvement in a newborn’s care, Neonatal units follow a ‘family-centred care’ approach. This involves encouraging parental participation in decision-making, offering emotional support, and creating a nurturing environment that fosters bonding between parents and their infants.
Royal United Hospital, Bath (RUH), has taken this approach one step further; the £6.1 million Dyson Neonatal Care Unit opened on 23 July 2011 and is an environmentally sustainable design, which is the first of its type in Europe. It is designed in terms of scale, low-carbon materials, and light to provide a beneficial healing environment for babies and reduce stress levels experienced by their parents.
The unit is designed to meet the family centred approach from everything from its shape (a big hug) to the fact it runs at several decibels lower than most NICUs in the UK, which prevents stress in babies and encourages visitors, meaning better results than standard hospital NICUs. Further, it brings the outdoors inside via atriums for a calming, healing environment (research in Scandinavia shows a +20% quicker healing process in those in Hospital rooms facing the forest to those facing Hospital walls).
Challenges and Future Directions
While the progress in neonatology is remarkable, challenges persist. Premature birth rates, though declining, remain a concern. Additionally, addressing the long-term developmental and psychological outcomes of babies requiring neonatal care continues to be an area of research and improvement.
It is likely in the future that neonatal units will witness even more advancements, incorporating artificial intelligence, genetic therapies and personalised medicine, among other developments.
RHL Solicitors’s experienced solicitors act for the victims of medical negligence, conducting thorough and rigorous clinical negligence investigations with the intention of establishing liability and recovering compensation, particularly if you are now unable to work due to needing to care for your neonate who was born avoidably early or has had an extended stay in SCBU/ NICU due to negligence.
The expert reports we disclose to the Defendant during the claim process can help to make a difference to future care.
We understand that no one would wish to begin the long and emotional journey of claiming damages against the medical profession without good cause. However, it’s crucial to ensure you get the expert legal advice and support you need as soon as possible whilst the evidence is still fresh.
If you or your child have suffered an avoidable injury which you believe to be attributable to medical negligence, contact our expert clinical negligence team who will be more than happy to discuss representing you on a ‘No Win No Fee’ agreement.