Families left out of NICU rethink after challenging neonatal data

The Weatherill Government is backing away from its dangerous plan to transfer the sickest babies from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Flinders Medical Centre into the city as its ill-conceived hospital cuts come under increasing scrutiny.

Minister Snelling has been forced to establish a review of the plan to downgrade the NICU at Flinders Medical Centre in response to intense pressure from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and the community lobby group ‘Save the FMC NICU’.

“The Minister has been caught peddling different data to different audiences in respect of how many critically ill babies will be transferred from the NICU at Flinders,” said Shadow Minister for Health Stephen Wade.

“Minister Snelling needs to explain why he told Save the FMC NICU group that around 100 critically ill babies will be transferred from NICU each year but told the media that only 10 to 15 babies will be transferred.

“Minister Snelling also needs to explain why he has excluded the Save the FMC NICU group from his review of plans to downgrade the treatment of critically ill babies at Flinders Medical Centre.

“While both the families and the unions have challenged the Weatherill Government’s data, representatives of the families have not been invited to participate in the review.

“Minister Snelling is leaving these families in the dark and really doesn’t want to hear from them.

In a circular distributed to members, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) reported that it had suggested a joint working group be established to ensure “FMC nurses and other clinicians … see and interrogate the data underpinning decisions around NICU services into the future.”

The ANMF circular goes on to state:

“We are pleased to advise members that the CE of the department has agreed, as a matter of urgency, to commission [a] collaborative, multi-disciplinary working group.  This work will feed into the decision-making of Government in determining the final configuration of metropolitan health services…”

The ANMF circular also highlights that there has been “considerable unrest and concern over the reliability of the data” underpinning the proposal to relocate the sickest babies to a new Women’s and Children’s Hospital, before commenting:

“We are of the opinion that it is vital that members have the capacity to have full information about the proposals provided to them, along with the capacity to debate the merit of the data and the decisions based on it.”

Last night, in a statement posted on the ‘Save the FMC NICU’ Facebook page, the Minister’s data was challenged:

How many babies (and families) would be affected every year by the proposed closure of the FMC Level 6 NICU services? Last week we were told about 100 per year, yesterday, in the media, we were told about 15. …

According to the same data provided to us [by the Minister], in 2013, 99 babies were admitted to the FMC Level 6 NICU and, in 2014, 96 babies.

Yesterday on the 9 News, the Health Minister said that only [a] “very small number of the very tiniest, most frail babies” would be transferred to the new WCH. That’s not an answer!

Later, on the ABC, an article stated that “Mr Snelling said he expected about 15 babies annually would require a hospital transfer for neonatal care.”

So, Mr Snelling, how many babies and their families will really be affected by the proposed closure of the FMC Level 6 NICU. Is the answer 15, 100 or ?????? From the data provided to us, it would indicate that the 15 babies you told the media is NOT the answer…

It’s time for the Health Minister to stop playing games and give us answers.

The Flinders Medical Centre website states:

“Approximately 200 babies are admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit annually.”[1]

“That’s not the ‘very small number’ Minister Snelling has been banding about,” Mr Wade said.

“In fact, it’s a full quarter of the 800 babies cared for in the Neonatal Unit each year.”

“The Weatherill Government needs to release the data to the community and be clear on the process and timeframe for the review.

“Obviously, a proper review will take more than the 7 days left until the Transforming Health consultation period ends next Friday.”