Friday, 26 January 2018

Taking special care...

Today, the Neonatal Unit of the Simpson Centre for Reproductive Health is holding a symposium to mark a very special delivery: the 50th anniversary of the Special Care Unit, first opened in the Simpson Memorial Maternity Pavilion (SMMP) in 1968.

The SMMP itself welcomed mothers through its doors in 1939, moving maternity services from their old location on Lauriston Place to a building on what was then the site of the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.
SMMP, c. 1950s (P/PL3/SM/064)

In the 1930s, the paramount concern in obstetrics was for the health of the mother, and survival rates for premature (and many full-term) infants were much lower than they were to become in the late 1960s. This meant that few facilities were devoted to specialised care for newborn babies. But attitudes to neonatal care were shifting, with birth practice becoming more child-centred, medicine advancing and the role of the pediatrician expanding. The maternity wards of old were no longer up to the job.

The new SMMP Special Care Unit had thirty cots over four nurseries, one each dedicated to premature babies, babies with problems with their metabolism, babies with breathing problems, and babies suffering from infections. The Unit had its own staff of expert, specialist nurses, and (being based on the same site as the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh) could call on clinicians from the Infirmary for support when it came to difficult and intricate procedures (in very small children), such as blood transfusion and anaesthetic administration.

In its first year, 765 babies were admitted to the Special Care Unit, over 16% of all babies born in that time at the SMMP. A dedicated neonatal course for nurses was also set up - ensuring that this specialist branch of care would be supported for years to come, not only in Edinburgh, but through the learning of students from around the world.

Specialist nurses caring for babies in the early days of the Unit, 1972 (P/PL3/SM/067, 071)

In 1972, the Unit was helped by the donation of an ambulance from the Variety Club. No normal patient-transport vehicle, it was designed to move at-risk or premature babies to the SMMP from areas where specialist neonatal care was unavailable. Until 1979, standard ambulances could not provide the environment nor carry equipment needed to safely transport such delicate patients.

Variety Club special ambulance, 1972 (P/PL3/SM/081)
The Unit is still going strong today, helping vulnerable babies back to health and supporting parents through the most difficult times. If you'd like to read some more recent stories from parents about their babies' care in what is now the Neonatal Unit, you can see them here.

The Special Care Unit in 1983 (P/PL3/SM/074)

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