The quality of the Neonatal Service at the South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) has been praised by a Fermanagh mum whose twins were treated in the ward as she called for the continued retention of the ward.

The service at the SWAH’s neonatal ward had previously been scaled back to short-term care, emergency care or stabilisation before transfer, due to staff shortages.

However, the unit now is back to full capacity again, with six cots.

When Debbie Buchanan gave birth to her twins, Rosie and Theo, in Belfast at 34 weeks last year, she was told that her twins would have be moved from the Royal to two separate neonatal units in Northern Ireland as the cots in Belfast were needed for babies from Belfast.

In what was becoming a very real possibility, Rosie would be treated at Altnagelvin, Theo in Craigavon, and Debbie would be sent home to Fermanagh.

Speaking to The Impartial Reporter, Debbie said: “I have an underlying heart condition, so the plan was that they were always going to be born in Belfast when I went into labour in Enniskillen, because of my heart condition, but more to do with the fact that they didn’t have an open neonatal there.

“I was transferred to Craigavon, and then transferred to Belfast. Theo was okay at birth, and Rosie needed a bit of extra support, and then she ended up being ventilated.

“Whenever she got better, they came to me and said they had no beds, and there was not enough staff, and from a postcode kind of logistical reasoning, we were going to be transferred out to allow the babies that were from Belfast to be born [in the Royal].”

Part of the reason for this decision was due to the problems at SWAH neonatal, said Debbie.

“Because of cot shortages and staff shortages in Enniskillen, as it [neonatal ward] had not opened again, Rosie was going to go to Altnagelvin because she needed more care, and Theo was going to go to Craigavon.”

This was an anxious time for Debbie and her husband, Mark, at the thought of their newborn babies being far apart.

However, there was a glimmer of hope for the family.

Debbie said: “It just so happened that week was the week that the SWAH neonatal ward was reopening again, and they were taking babies at 35 weeks, and Rosie and Theo were going to be 35 weeks the next day.”

When at the SWAH, the babies were able to be in the same room and be held by their parents at the same time.

Debbie said: “It was lovely to be closer to home, and obviously travelling is financially hard, going up and down.

“Rosie was in for a month, so that would have been a month travelling to Altnagelvin.”

Thankfully, after a long month, Theo and Rosie were later discharged to home on the same day.

Debbie, who is a paediatrics nurse in the SWAH, was full of praise for the neonatal team.

She said: “We can’t thank them enough – we are forever grateful. Obviously I am familiar with sick babies and tubes, but Mark [Debbie’s husband] found that very overwhelming.

“But the girls spent time with him, showing him how to change nappies, and helping him with feeds so that he wasn’t scared of the tubes. The unit has a real family feel to it.

“If you wanted to, you were able to stay overnight, and do night feeds. I could ring the girls any time, 24/7, and they could tell me how they were; they knew Theo and Rosie’s’ personality.

Now that the neonatal unit is reopened, Debbie says it is essential that the unit in the SWAH remains open.

She said: “It’s essential that the unit stays open – it is there with staff who have a skillset that is above and beyond. There are girls there who have been there for more than 20 years.

“I think it’s essential that it stays open, as it takes away a lot of fear as well. I always knew I was going to deliver in Belfast, but not knowing where your sick baby was going must be really scary.”

On a happy note, Rosie and Theo are now doing well; the five-month-old twins are thriving at home with their proud parents, Debbie and Mark, and their doting big brother, Reuben.