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50 years of RPA Newborn Care

Dedicated team marks five decades of care for newborns.

SydneyConnect Video: 50 Years of RPA Newborn Care

Conor and Moira McCormick will be forever grateful to RPA Newborn Care.

"We'll never really be able to express our gratitude for just how fortunate we are to have had access to such a wonderful place," Moira said.

Their daughter Saoirse, now nine, was born at RPA at 24 weeks and two days in March 2012. She weighed 589 grams.

Saoirse spent 126 days in the hospital's Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

"In reality, without RPA and NICU she wouldn't be here. It's as simple as that," Conor said.

Saoirse is one of about 1000 babies admitted to RPA Newborn Care every year.

This year marks 50 years of RPA Newborn Care – the hospital's specialist neonatal unit equipped to care for babies born prematurely, or full-term babies requiring intensive care.

The King George V Memorial Hospital for Mothers and Babies was built around 1940.

And, in 1971, the purpose-built John Spence Nursery opened its doors. It was named in honour of one of the founders of Soul Pattinson pharmacies who left a $100 000 bequest to RPA.

It gained an international reputation for excellence in newborn care. It was the home of neonatal intensive care for the next 30 years, and relocated in 2002 to its present site at RPA.

The $750 million redevelopment of RPA, announced by the NSW Government last year, includes plans to expand neonatal services.

"Fifty years ago, babies who were born under 30 weeks or under about 1.5 kilos rarely survived. The staff in this unit over the past 50 years have contributed significantly to the international literature and knowledge base around how we look after preterm babies," Dr Mark Greenhalgh, who leads RPA Newborn Care, said.

"Fast forward to today. In 2021, care has changed significantly. At RPA we have access to the best equipment and technology and some of the best staff internationally to care for these babies," Dr Greenhalgh said.

Some babies admitted to the 36 bed unit are born at RPA and others are transferred from hospitals all across NSW.

"No one expects to have their baby admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit and it is a very, very scary place for families. However, the staff at RPA are highly skilled, are highly trained and are committed to providing a family-centred environment, where parents are supported through this journey," Dr Greenhalgh said.

The unit's multidisciplinary team includes specialist doctors, nurses, allied health workers –such as physiotherapists, speech pathologists, lactation consultants, social workers and clinical psychologists – plus administrative and support staff.

Parents are able to be involved in care every step of the way. Most parents have held their baby within 24 hours, even if they are born extremely preterm.

"Our aim is to build a strong rapport with the families in order to work with them – but with that, we're building up their capacity to take their baby home and succeed," Simon Burke, the Nursing Unit Manager, said.

Clinical Nurse Consultant in Newborn Care, Karen Walker provides expert clinical, research, education and leadership support to RPA Newborn Care.

She's witnessed many families' journeys over her 30 years as a neonatal nurse.

"That's probably the happiest day… to see a healthy baby go home with their parents. That makes it all worthwhile. That's why we do this," she said.

Conor and Moira return every Christmas to show their appreciation for the care their family received.

"It was just phenomenal. It's top notch health care for really vulnerable little children," Moira said.