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‘I still feel like crying’ - Parents on how Covid restrictions limited visits to sick babies

PUBLISHED: 15:22 13 November 2020 | UPDATED: 10:09 16 November 2020

Parents faced coronavirus visiting restrictions in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Getty Images

Parents faced coronavirus visiting restrictions in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Getty Images

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The experiences of Norfolk parents who faced restrictions seeing babies in neonatal intensive care due to the coronavirus pandemic feature in an international report.

Baby Oscar and new mum Chelsea on NICU with Professor Paul Clarke. Picture: NNUHBaby Oscar and new mum Chelsea on NICU with Professor Paul Clarke. Picture: NNUH

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (NNHU) was one of six hospitals in the UK and America to take part in a study into the impact of strict visiting restrictions.

Normally, parents are allowed 24-hour access on special care baby units. But to prevent the spread of Covid-19, hospitals introduced restrictions.

The study, published in the British Medical Journal Paediatrics, reveals the stress and anxiety many parents felt at being unable to see and bond with their babies.

Parents faced coronavirus visiting restrictions in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: SubmittedParents faced coronavirus visiting restrictions in the neonatal intensive care unit at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital. Picture: Submitted

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The NNUH is identified in the report as the hospital that imposed the most austere restrictions amongst those that took part in the study.

One new mum said: “It felt really odd being only allowed to see my baby for two hours a day.

“One day I was readmitted to the delivery suite so my partner went and I was literally across the corridor but unable to see my poorly baby which emotionally is just very challenging.”

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in Colney. Picture: James BassThe Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital in Colney. Picture: James Bass

Another mum told researchers, led in Norfolk by NNUH consultant neonatologist Dr Paul Clarke: “It was hard to be alone with my baby with no partner allowed. I barely slept that week and was exhausted and stressed.

“I still feel like crying my heart out when I hear him cry. I struggle to calm him down as my heart is racing remembering when he was crying under lamps due to jaundice.”

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An NNUH spokesman said: “Visiting time slots were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic, based on parent feedback, the need to maintain social distancing, and feedback of other NICU departments in the region.

“A video messaging service was also set-up during the first wave to keep patients, families and clinicians connected.”

The study found almost half of respondents (41pc) felt unable to bond adequately with their child and one in five (27pc) reported being unable to participate in their baby’s daily cares.

More than half (51pc) reported concerns that siblings and grandparents were not allowed to visit.

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The report’s lead author Dr Hemananda Muniraman said the NNUH responses came in April and May when coronavirus restrictions were at their height.

He said: “In the beginning of the pandemic, when we didn’t really have much evidence of the effect of the infection on small babies, there were very well intentioned policies to restrict parents so that they could keep the babies and the staff safe.

“Unfortunately it had quite an adverse effect on well established policies like allowing families to participate in a child’s care.

The NNUH now has open access for both parents in place on the NICU and visiting has been regularly reviewed throughout the pandemic.

A spokesman said: “Time slots were introduced at the beginning of the pandemic based on parent feedback, the need to maintain social distancing and in line with other NICU departments both regionally and nationally.

“A video messaging service was also set-up at the beginning of the first wave to keep patients, families and clinicians connected.”

Dr Muniraman said: “Later hospital policies changed to allow more parents to be able to send more time. Neonatal units are quite unique in having visitors present most of the time allowing parents to participate in care which has both short and long term benefits. Unfortunately the restrictions impared their ability to be there to care.”


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