Fears for future of 'crucial' accommodation for parents of sick babies in Derriford hospital

  • Watch Will Charley's report

A charity that houses the parents of some of the sickest and most vulnerable children in the region says it's unable to raise enough money to pay for the service.

Derriford Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit - known as the NICU - is the place many babies who are born prematurely will spent the first weeks and months of their lives.

The specialist nature of the unit in Plymouth means families are sent there from far and wide and so often have to spend weeks, or months, living away from home.

For years, charity Keep Me Close have provided those families with a place to stay near the hospital - but now a lack of funds mean this vital service is at risk.

Cornish couple Claire Hill and Oliver Moore know all too well how vital the service is.

Their four-month-old twins Francheska and Nate were born at just 24 weeks and are lucky to be alive today.

Claire was rushed to Derriford Hospital from their home in Bude when she went into labour.

"It got to the point that I got really poorly, and I remember Olly telling me that if they didn't act now, then he would lose all three of us," Claire said.

"So, it was quite an emergency in the end. But luckily, both of them have pulled through, are fighting it, and yeah, I'm better now too."

Oliver and Claire's twins are now four months old and have spent more than 120 days in the NICU at Derriford.

Both twins were born with chronic lung disease, as they were so premature. Nate also required weeks of treatment in Bristol for a perforated bowel, but doctors managed to bring the family back together in Plymouth's neonatal intensive care unit. Francheska and Nate have now spent more than 120 days in intensive care - around 40 miles from their home in Bude.

They've been housed near the ward through Keep Me Close, a service funded entirely by donations.

The couple say they wouldn't have been able to spend anywhere near as much time with their twins if it wasn't for having a base nearby.

Claire in hospital with the twins, who are now four months old.

Ollie said: "If you had to fathom an hour and a half coming in, an hour and a half getting home, while being safe enough to travel home, because you're just exhausted aren't you - I don't think we would have been able to provide the care we have, if that was in the mix.

"We wouldn't have been able to stay here as long."

The scheme is run by the Plymouth Hospitals Charity and provides families with a room to call home just on the outskirts of the hospital, free of charge for as long as they need it. But the charity says recently it's simply not been able to raise enough money.

Fundraiser at Keep Me Close Tracey Stacey said: "Since Covid hit, we're having a shortfall in our donations, so we're not hitting our target of £80,000 at the moment. We run our own fundraising events: we do balls, we do skydives, we do raffles, we do sponsored walks. So, yeah, every penny that we get in, we're really grateful for." One dad who once used the service has now led multiple fundraising drives, skydiving not once - but twice - after his son, Stanley, was born with sepsis.

Stuart Phipps' son Stanley was born eight years ago. He stopped breathing when he contracted sepsis and was blue-lighted from Torbay Hospital to the NICU in Derriford where he stayed for 13 days.

Stuart Phipps and his son, Stanley.

He said: "Stanley was born early and we thought that he was all well and good, but that was not the case. He had to be resuscitated shortly before he was born. That night he was incubated and then they had to move him to Exeter. So, they got him an ambulance. They got as far as [the] Penn Inn and they had to stop at Penn Inn because he was very unstable, so they spent three and a half hours there, trying to stabilize him and then it turned out it was safer to bring him back to Torbay. 

"The following morning, they brought a unit up from here, from Plymouth, brought a team up with another ambulance to bring him here, where he was cared for down here for 13 days."

He described the Keep Me Close accomodation as "crucial", adding: "Having a baby that ill, you just can't imagine being away from him just in case the worst happened, because it was touch and go at times. I don't know what we would have done if this service didn't happen here."