Cambridge doctors save baby's life using virtual technology in UK first

  • Claire McGlasson found out how the new technology works

Hospital consultants have used life-saving virtual technology to treat babies in other hospitals, in a UK first.

Cambridge University Hospitals said the new equipment allowed it to effectively "parachute" its experts into other regional hospitals, helping medics there without the babies having to leave their local area.

One of the first patients to benefit was baby Aurelia Hunt, who became seriously ill with suspected meningitis and sepsis after being born prematurely at Colchester Hospital.

Rather than being transferred for treatment in Cambridge, Aurelia was cared for in Colchester, where her family were able to stay together.

James Hunt, Aurelia's father, said: "It was a huge relief that the technology existed. Had it been different, it would have completely blown our family life for a couple weeks.

"It was hard enough already and it would have made it even harder."

The technology, developed at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, is called LocANTS and enables consultants in Cambridge to monitor babies remotely, so they can read their notes, examine scans and X-rays, and check readings from ventilators and other equipment.

The consultants, all part of the Paediatric and Neonatal Decision Support and Retrieval Service (PaNDR), can also control cameras and microphones fitted to workstations in other neonatal units across the region to help doctors with tough decisions.

Colchester Hospital neonatal unit senior nurse Lindsey Harding-Payne (right) consults with PANDR Consultant Lydia Harrington in Cambridge. Credit: Addenbrooke's Hospital

Livestreamed data from each baby is monitored in a control room back in Cambridge, and if a baby's condition deteriorates and is causing concern, the team can quickly transfer the baby by ambulance to a more specialised neonatal critical care unit, such as the one at Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

The extra layer of clinical support means more babies can be treated closer to home, which frees up paediatric and neonatal ambulance crews and critical care cots for the sickest babies.

The initiative has been welcomed by families who know their babies are getting the right care and do not have the expense, inconvenience, and stress of visiting a different hospital.

Addenbrooke’s and its sister hospital the Rosie maternity are currently trialing LocANTS at Peterborough, Colchester and Ipswich hospitals.

It is hoped the scheme can be rolled out across all hospitals in the east, before being extended nationwide.

Dr Sue Broster is one of the driving forces behind the new initiative Credit: Addenbrooke's Hospital

The driving force behind LocANTS is Addenbrooke’s deputy medical director, Dr Sue Broster, paediatrician Dr Arun Dhar, and London-based entrepreneur and IT consultant, Ranadip Chatterjee.

Dr Broster, a consultant in neonatal intensive care and neonatal transport medicine, said: "LocANTS now enables clinicians to pool their combined expertise to make difficult decisions about difficult cases in real time, even though they may be miles apart.

"It is in its infancy, but has the potential to become something very big."

"This is a classic example of different people, with widely differing skill sets, working as a team to develop something that has the potential to be truly remarkable and solve at a stroke a lot of risks, complications and pressures associated with neonatal transport."

Dr Arun Dhar, who came up with the original concept, said LocANTS would undoubtedly save lives.

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