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Friday, July 2, 1999 Published at 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK


Triplet separation a national problem

Dianne Moore has only seen pictures of two of her babies

Limited intensive care baby facilities in many UK hospitals force doctors to split up prematurely-born triplets and separate babies from their mothers.

Dr Harvey Marcovitch explains the extent of the problem
A BBC investigation found that hospitals often had only one or two spare neo-natal intensive care beds, so could not accommodate dangerously-ill triplets or even twins under the same roof.

An expert in paediatric intensive care told the BBC that doctors' ability to save even younger babies, coupled with IVF fertility treatment - which often produces multiple births - meant that splitting new families was a common necessity.

Hints of restrictions on IVF

And he hinted that, if the problem worsened, restrictions might have to be placed on IVF treatments to limit the number of multiple births.

The problem was highlighted by the case of Dianne Moore, who, four days after giving birth, had only seen photographs of two of her three babies because they had to be moved 40 miles away from Nottingham to Chesterfield.

But when the BBC surveyed other hospitals, it quickly became apparent that many would do exactly the same thing.

[ image: Premature babies can be saved at just 24 weeks old]
Premature babies can be saved at just 24 weeks old
In Newcastle, there were found to be no spare neo-natal intensive care cots, while hospitals in Bristol, London, and Southampton also had less than threespare intensive care incubators.

Dr Harvey Marcovitch, from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said that the problem was not a new one, although it was probably getting worse.

He said: "Neo-natologists are victims of their own success.

Very premature babies can be saved

"Years ago, extremely premature babies didn't survive, they now do, right down to 24 or 25 weeks.

"This means that these babies might be having intensive care for 10 weeks, in fact they might be having intensive care for several months.

"That's an incubator and a nurse used up for that period."

He said that the problem of splitting up new-borns was age-old: "I remember spending half of 1969 driving round with an ambulance picking up babies."

While the NHS was coping at present, he said, if the problem got significantly worse, it might run out of intensive care facilities.

He added: "Under those circumstances, there might have to be some form of rationing. IVF could come into that."

Richard Bilton reports on the separation of the babies
Dianne Moore told the BBC that it was "devastating" that she had not seen two of her children four days after the birth

The babies, Evie and Ruby, and their brother Francis, were born after IVF treatment, and hospital staff quickly realised they did not have the facilities to look after all three together.

The hospital said that the requirement to move the babies was "very regrettable".

Dr Ian Johnstone told the BBC: "These babies were transferred to Chesterfield to maintain the higher level of care they should be getting."

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