New mum's horror story: In labour and shunted between four hospitals in four nightmare days
Eleanor is shunted across country because of lack of facilities to cope with births
A young mother has told of her nightmare experience being shunted between four hospitals over four days before she could give birth to twins.
Eleanor Brown, who described her experience as a "nightmare", has now called for improvements to be made to the health system after what she said should have been the happiest time of her life has left her mentally exhausted, drained and angry.
The Health and Social Care Board said arrangements were in place to ensure that babies get the clinical care they needed.
However Mrs Brown, who had gone into labour at 31 weeks with babies in a breech position, had to be constantly transfered as the hospitals did not have the facilities available to cope with the births.
The 24-year-old from Bangor, Co Down, finally gave birth in Altnagelvin. Mrs Brown was admitted on Monday, February 23 to the Ulster Hospital, Dundonald, with 'threatening pre-term labour'.
She had attended the Ulster along with her 28-year-old husband Ross for all her antenatal appointments but once admitted, she was told that the Ulster Hospital did not have the facilities to look after the two babies.
She was then transferred to the Jubilee Clinic at Belfast's Royal Victoria Hospital, where she was kept overnight.
The staff were able to slow the labour down and she was discharged.
"I understood there was a lack of beds for my babies if they were born in the Ulster and I knew they would get good care in Belfast, I just wasn't prepared for what happened next."
On Wednesday night, her contractions began again -but there were still no facilities available at the Ulster Hospital.
She was then sent again from the Ulster Hospital but now to Craigavon Area Hospital where suitable facilities were said to be available.
Eleanor made the journey on her own via ambulance where medical staff again tried to slow down her labour, but by now she was two centimetres dilated and was having contractions every seven minutes.
Despite the transfer, she was told the next day that Craigavon now did not have the facilities to look after her babies and was told she would have to make the two-hour journey to Alnagelvin in Londonderry.
"I was in agony and frightened," she said.
"They were trying to slow down the labour - but at 9.10pm my waters broke and I underwent emergency Caesarian surgery to deliver my little girls."
Her daughters - Katie and Emily, both weighing over 3lbs each - are now in intensive care in Altnagelvin.
But within days she had been asked to send baby Emily back to the Ulster, splitting the family up - a request she refused to agree to.
"I was admitted five times in four hospitals because there are not enough cots to cope with premature twins.
"This should have been the happiest time of my life. But instead I feel like I'm going to have a nervous breakdown."
She had high praise for the quality of care she had received in the postnatal ward at Altnagelvin: "The staff in the postnatal unit have been fantastic and we are now in a family home for the short term.
"But my experience makes me feel that Northern Ireland is simply not equipped to cope with premature twins."
A spokeswoman for the Health and Social Care Board said: "The safety of the babies is paramount and ensuring that babies receive their care in the right neonatal environment is the primary aim.
"Whilst the service endeavours to provide care as close to the families' home as possible, as is the case across the rest of the UK, this cannot be achieved on all occasions.
"Where babies have to be moved to a neonatal unit outside of their own trust for clinical reasons, trusts make every effort to repatriate babies back to their home trust as soon as possible.
"Neonatal services are currently provided in all five Health and Social Care Trust areas.
"The neonatal units across the region work very closely together in a 'network' arrangement to ensure that babies get the clinical care they need and that the valuable neonatal cot resource is used appropriately."
'I was being transferred from pillar to post, I was just crying and was very scared for me and my babies'
When Eleanor and Ross Brown discovered they were expecting twins the couple were overjoyed. It was six weeks into their first pregnancy when the news was revealed the newlyweds would be parents not to just one baby -but two.
The excited couple attended each appointment at the Ulster Hospital knowing the babies were likely to be born early.
"There is a 60% chance that twins would be premature, we were told that but at no point were we were concerned that the babies would not be born in the Ulster. That had never been explained," said Elenanor.
But Eleanor then found herself going into premature labour on February 23 - at just 31 weeks pregnant - and made the journey to the Ulster.
After being examined she was told she had to be moved to the Royal.
"They were concerned at that point in the Ulster because there were no specialist cots available and I would have to go to the Royal. It wasn't too far to go and if we had to do that, that was fine.
"I was discharged on the Tuesday from the Royal with the contractions but they got things under control and I was happy to go home knowing if was to happen again the Ulster would have beds. On Wednesday night I started contractions again and was totally shocked again to be told 'sorry you won't be staying here'. This time I had to go to Craigavon, I was just totally stressed. How is that good when you are trying to stop contractions? I was transferred in the ambulance on my own. My babies were in the breech position and all that kept going through my head was that I hadn't been in that hospital before, never had seen any of the doctors before. I was going into the unknown. It was horrific."
Eleanor spent the night in Craigavon but was told the next day she was in labour but could not give birth there. She had to be transferred as there were no cots.
"I was examined by two midwives and was told I was 2cm dilated and about two seconds later was told I had to be moved again. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I was just crying. I just felt no one cared that I was going half way across the country in established labour and just transferred from pillar to post. I was just scared for me and my babies."
At around 7pm she left in an ambulance with a midwife but this time insisted her husband accompany her. She then made the journey lasting over one hour and 40 minutes.
"I was just praying I didn't give birth in an ambulance. I arrived and my water broke about 9.15pm in the hospital and the babies were born by C-section at 10.30pm, one minute apart. Katie was 3lb and half-an-oz and Emily was 3lb 13oz. They are beautiful."
But the new mother was unable to hold or touch her babies as they were rushed to the Intensive Care Unit.
And sadly Eleanor said the experience has prevented her from enjoying becoming a mother for the first time. "I've just been so stressed. We are so far away from family and friends. They then wanted to separate the twins by moving Emily back to the Ulster as she is a little better. I'm breastfeeding premature babies - I don't know how I would be expected to do that between Londonderry and Dundonald. I put my foot down and said no."
Now staying in a family room in Altnagelvin, Eleanor says her nightmare isn't over as she is still left in an "emotional limbo".
"Everyone in Altnagelvin has been great. If they don't have the facilities this is not their fault. I know we are not the only parents to go through this -but just because it happens does not make it right."