NEW mums will be able to watch over their poorly newborn babies thanks to “Big Mother” TV screens set to be rolled out in the region’s maternity units.
Plans are in place to fit video cameras beside tots in incubators, the images beamed live to the mums who are often themselves unwell in another part of the hospital.
While the technology could be compared to the “tele-screens” which are used to keep subjects under state surveillance in George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, its use in NHS Lothian hospitals has a less sinister purpose.
It is hoped that the gadgets, which have proved a success in other parts of Scotland, will allow mothers to build early bonds with their babies, even if they are unable to experience the physical contact that parents and healthy infants enjoy.
Gillian Smith, director for Scotland at the Royal College of Midwives, welcomed the plan. She said: “Normally if a baby is in the neonatal unit the mum has had a caesarian section, so she can be poorly, need rest and may be in a distant ward. This is a really positive step forward in reassuring mums about their babies.”
NHS Lothian chiefs are pressing ahead with plans to introduce video links in patients’ homes, so that they will be able to have consultations with doctors onscreen – a development that sparked concern from patient groups.
Iain Scott Robertson, head of health infrastructure and operations for NHS Lothian, said extending the use of video in the health service could benefit patients while saving millions of pounds. He said: “We’re looking at things like how to provide video into patients’ homes, so rather than patients having to come in, spending their time travelling, trying to find a car park in a hospital, all those usual issues, if we can reach out to them using video then that makes it much easier for them.
“Using video to conference face-to-face over long distances, rather than having to be there in person, benefits staff with improved efficiency, benefits patients with greater convenience, and benefits the health board as a whole.”
It is understood that the health board is working closely with a private firm, Polycom, to extend the use of video technology in the NHS. In an advert trumpeting its links with NHS Lothian posted on YouTube, which includes an interview with Mr Robertson, the company claims its technology allows NHS staff “to diagnose patients without the need to travel”.
Dr Jean Turner, a former hospital consultant and director of the Scotland Patients Association, described use of video in neonatal units as a “lovely idea” but expressed concerns over the claim that patients would be diagnosed through a video link.
“A face-to-face consultation is worth its weight in gold,” she said. “You can tell a lot about a patient, even just by the way they approach you and sit down. If you’re behind a screen, no matter how clever you are, you’re at a disadvantage.
“Telemedicine has a place in the NHS, but only up to a point.”