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New unit for premature babies at Waitākere Hospital

A $6 million rebuild of Waitākere Hospital's neonatal unit will provide six more cots, allowing more babies to be cared for closer to home.

In recent months, the west Auckland hospital was forced to send premature and sick babies to Taranaki and Northland, as well as Australia, for treatment because Auckland units were full.

A charity is footing most of the bill for the new Special Care Baby Unit, expected to be completed in 2020.

Auckland mother Kara McMillan's baby George was born seven weeks early in May, weighing under two kilograms.

He spent 50 days in Waitākere Hospital's Special Care Baby Unit, receiving specialist care as he grew and gained strength.

Ms McMillan said the neonatal unit was so busy she felt lucky her baby was able to be treated there.

"We actually came at a really, really busy time.

"It was a time when they were actually moving kids, the patients, all over New Zealand, and some even were going to Australia, because it was so busy in every neonatal unit. We arrived and I think there was about 12 babies, so it was a full house."

Parents cannot stay overnight at Waitākere Hospital's neonatal unit, and Ms McMillan said she remembered feeling sad returning home without her baby.

"The hardest one was probably that Wednesday after I'd had George ... just because I got home and everything was normal, but not normal. I left my house on a Sunday, pregnant, and came without a baby, so that was really difficult."

About 3000 babies are born at Waitākere Hospital each year, and of those more than 350 are born premature and admitted to its Special Care Baby Unit.

The hospital's plans for a new neonatal unit will take the number of cots up from 12 to 18, double the space around each cot to meet international best practice, provide stretchers and space for parents to stay overnight with their babies, and another two family rooms.

Well Foundation is the charity supporting community health services in Rodney, North Shore and Waitākere hospitals, and is fundraising for the new baby unit.

Its chief executive Andrew Young said the rebuild would give families privacy and dignity at an overwhelming time in their lives.

"Many parents of premature and medically fragile babies are very overwhelmed and some of them are quite terrified.

"A special care baby unit needs to be really a cocoon of medical excellence, but also a place where families feel nurtured."

Well Foundation will contribute $5 million to the project, with the Waitematā District Health Board committing $1m.

Mr Young said the DHB was not committing more money to the project because health boards were under financial pressure to look after aged facilities and an increasing population.

"This is just the reality of health care in New Zealand and I've been in health fundraising for 20 years now, so it's certainly not a new thing."

Regardless, Ms McMillan was pleased Waitākere Hospital's new unit would get more cots and allow parents to stay overnight.

"There's nothing fancy about the current unit as it is, but that extra money that's going to increasing it is much-needed."

The Well Foundation is fundraising for the remaining $800,000 to hit its $5m target.
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