After raising over £1100 for Tommy’s in 2013, my husband and I have gone on to support Tiny Lives, a local North East charity which helps the Special Care Baby Unit at the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle.
Reading about the work of the charity on their website, a thought occurred to me.
A quick Google search of ‘special care baby unit funding’ does not bring up a list of how everything is covered in each hospital trust’s government-funded budget; it shows website after website of charitable funds, just like Tiny Lives, all appealing for donations to pay for equipment and services the little patients and their families deserve and should expect, but without the generosity of the public they simply wouldn’t get. Of course, the NHS service provision for special care babies aims to be a high quality one, and the basic care and necessities are paid for, but the fact that charities like Tiny Lives still exist when much of the equipment that they used to have to provide themselves now comes as standard, shows how far short of providing a complete service of the highest standard NHS funding falls.
The Newcastle Neonatal Service at the RVI cares for around 700 premature or very ill babies each year from across the North East and Cumbria and is staffed by 120 nurses and 30 doctors. Tiny Lives aims to raise at least £150,000 every year to help fund the service. Put yourself in the shoes of a parent of a premature baby on the SCBU and imagine how different both your experience and the care your baby received would be without the following services, all provided and paid for by Tiny Lives, not the NHS:
- A package of support for every family, including a memory box, journal to write in, progress chart and stickers and camera to record the critical early days, weeks, even months of a baby’s life
- Comfortable home-from-home family room and accommodation for parents to stay close to their baby
- Financial support for travel costs when parents have to come from further afield over many months of a baby’s stay on the unit
- Developmental care aids and equipment such as noise level monitors, baby nests, gel pillows and sleep shades to provide the highest level of care to vulnerable babies
- A full-time Neonatal Physiotherapist to teach parents simple exercises for their baby and to show them the importance of touch in bonding and care
- A dedicated Social Worker to provide social, emotional and practical support to families on the unit
- Specialist training courses and equipment to allow doctors and nurses to access the latest developments in neonatal care and provide the best possible service
- Research grants to enable the unit to be at the forefront of emerging developments
An already terribly stressful and emotional time would be an awful lot bleaker without these seemingly vital facilities and services, which are in reality optional extras to the standard model.
And it’s not just Neonatal Care which needs a helping hand. The Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Charity and the Newcastle Healthcare Charity administer, staggeringly, more than 700 separate charitable funds based at Newcastle hospitals, helping patient groups affected by cancer, head injury, kidney disease, burns, and heart transplant, among evidently many others. In 2011/12, the combined donations of these funds contributed nearly £3million to provide extra facilities, equipment, training and research to enhance patient care beyond the level that would otherwise be possible.
The sad fact of the matter is, as the NHS funding gap grows ever wider, charitable donations are becoming increasingly necessary to enable the often excellent staff in our hospitals to do their job, and to do it well. Fortunately not all of us will require the use of such specialist services as special care baby units, or heart transplant centres, but the strain on hospital budgets is already being felt across standard day-to-day services, affecting huge numbers of patients. The stretch in resources is something we are all going to have to face.
All I can do, as one little taxpayer, is to ask for the support of others to help Tiny Lives make things just a little bit easier for the most fragile and precious of patients. If I can contribute to the money required to pay for one extra SnuggleUp baby nest for a tiny baby, and a comfortable room for their stressed and weary parents to stay in, I think we’ll all sleep a little bit better at night.