By Anna Whittaker, Local Democracy Reporter
The parents of the most premature twins ever born in the UK have spoken of how they never lost hope both babies would survive – and have backed a planned expansion of the unit which saved them.
Mum Jade Crane gave birth to twins Harley and Harry at just 22 weeks in October 2021 – and now the pair are “hitting all their milestones” aged 13 months old.
Harley and Harry weighed just over a pound each when they were born at Nottingham’s Queen’s Medical Centre – and now Jade says they are doing “amazingly well”.
The couple, from Derbyshire, stayed at the neonatal units at the QMC for more than 140 days.
Dad Steve Crane praised the work of the staff who he said saved the twins’ lives – but he added that more investment is needed at the units to ensure there is more room for parents and staff.
Now, there are plans to increase the number of neonatal beds at the hospital from 17 to 38.
The plans also include dedicated areas for parents including bedrooms, a bereavement suite, a play area and kitchen for families.
The Local Democracy Reporting Service met the couple at the neonatal units, where it was clear to see that more space is needed.
In one bay, there are four cots inside a room cramped with parents and staff.
The changes will also ensure babies are less likely to be sent away to other units further away when there is no space within Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH).
The plans must get final approval from NHS England – which is expected in February.
Jade, 40, said: “It was one of the hardest times of our lives and it is incredible to be here with them now.
“I never lost hope – but the staff do have to tell you about the risks. We often sat in this exact room and we were told what the consequences could be.
“We were fortunate we had a room on the unit to stay in and we lived here, we put in 24-hour shifts between us.
“The unit is so small you are on top of everybody and the incubators are really close together.
“We saw a lot of other mums come in and leave and that was really hard for us when we were still here.
“For them to have more space for babies that are in a critical condition would be amazing.”
Dad Steve, 52, added: “There were so many ups and downs in the first two months it was hour by hour and we had to be here in case something happened.
“Being here for those milestone points like having the facilities here was difficult because it’s so cramped.
“We’re so pleased to hear of the plans and it will improve the situation for staff, parents and survival rate of babies.
“Without the skills of this team, Harley and Harry wouldn’t be here.
“They need investment to save more lives. We support it massively, it’s definitely needed.”
The Neonatal Unit at City Hospital has 24 cots but babies requiring scans or surgical care are currently transferred from the City Hospital to the QMC campus.
As part of the plans, the number of intensive care and high dependency cots at the City site would be reduced.
The local NHS says this would reduce transfers between sites.
Around 8,500 babies are born across Nottingham University Hospitals Trust (which runs the QMC and City Hospital) every year and the changes will affect around 250 of those babies.
Jenni Twinn, Programme Director for the Maternity and Neonatal Redesign (MNR), added: “The environment is really cramped and difficult to work in sometimes. In the current unit, privacy can be really challenging for families who are going through difficult times.
“The expansion will mean more families can stay here and also the staff will have a bigger environment to work in with more facilities such as a simulation room, a training room and bigger facilities for coffee breaks.
“For families, the environment will be nicer, there will be privacy screens between cots, it will be lighter and a bigger area.
“It will help us keep the babies we need to keep here because we are constrained by the capacity we can deliver at the moment with the limited cots.”
Dr Lleona Lee, consultant neonatologist and clinical lead for the MNR project, added: “I am really excited about this, it is a much needed step for the neonatal service in Nottingham.
“It allows us to build a fit-for-purpose neonatal unit which has much better space for each cot.
“We need to have safe staffing and enough staffing. We have a dedicated workforce stream alongside this to ensure we know how many staff we need and we have a recruitment and retention trajectory for that.”
The full business case – which has been in the making for two years – for the project has been accepted throughout the trust.
The case will now be considered by NHS England, and NUH anticipates a decision in February 2023.
The Trust’s aim is to complete construction by December 2024.