A decision to give mothers access to safe sleep bassinets like pepi-pods and wahakura will “save hundreds of young lives”, according to Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain.
Coroner Bain, who has long been a crusader for more to be done around safe sleeping environments for babies, has praised Health Minister Jonathan Coleman’s decision to over-rule his officials and reverse a decade-long refusal to fund the safe-sleep devices.
Dr Coleman has ordered an urgent national roll-out after a meeting last week with paediatrics professor Ed Mitchell.
The Ministry of Health had previously refused to fund the bassinets, called pepi-pods or wahakura, because of what it said was a lack of evidence-based research.
Coroner Bain, who has ruled on many deaths involving co-sleeping, said the decision to fund them would undoubtedly save lives – especially in the Maori community where there was a cultural practice of co-sleeping.
Coroner Bain, who has been outspoken on trying to get more done, said he had a lot of respect for Dr Coleman for listening to the evidence and changing the decision.
“I think he was not briefed properly. Ministry of Health had taken the view there was no evidence-based research and that was quite wrong. He could see what we were saying as coroners.”
Coroner Bain also paid tribute to Professor Mitchell.
In a 2012 finding Coroner Bain said figures suggested as many as 55- 60 babies were effectively “killed” each year through unsafe sleeping arrangements.
He said inquests into accidental suffocation of infants and Sudden Unexpected Death in Infants were often “chilling”.
He said while some co-sleeping deaths involved negligence, many were “just a tragedy of enormous proportions”.
Coroner Bain said it was great action was being taken.
“If I am just giving those findings I may as well just talk to myself.”
Acting chief coroner Brandt Shortland had been in touch with Mr Bain yesterday and was full of praise for the work done in this area.
He said it was “wonderful” that coroners’ recommendations were being listened to.
Lakes District Health Board assistant communications officer Shan Tapsell said the health board already funded pepi-pods and distributed them to families that met the criteria.
She said the pepi-pod programme was for babies with weakened breathing responses due to exposure to smoking, especially in pregnancy, babies born before 37 weeks and babies weighing less than 2500g at birth.
As at the end of June, 511 pepi pods had been distributed to families of new babies, over a three year period.
“The pepi pods are one part of Lakes DHB’s commitment to SUDI prevention programmes which also includes: safe sleeping messages, work to improve breastfeeding rates and stop smoking in pregnancy.”
Ms Tapsell said mothers with babies who received a pepi pod were contacted first in the weeks after the birth, then after two months, to see whether the pod was being used and if the wider family had been spoken to about safe sleep messages.
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