The Royal United Hospital in Bath has launched a campaign to raise £4.5 million so that premature babies can be given the best care possible.

The Forever Friends Appeal is asking for support, from private and public funding, so that the Neo Natal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) can be updated to improve the quality of care it offers to premature and seriously ill babies.

The current NICU unit was built in the 1970s and since then it has only had two small extensions.

Ward Matron Debbie Slocombe says this is not enough.

"We've all had to ask parents to leave rooms because we can't get to alarms, we're desperately short of space," she admitted.

The proposed new NICU ward will be an extension onto the existing one, which will be improved.

The Forever friends Appeal hope that once the money is raised, the unit will be completed by May 2010.

It is thought that one in ten babies from the Wiltshire and Somerset region will use the NICU ward.

Mrs Slocombe says that the new, 1039 square foot unit will create space, for state of the art equipment and increased privacy for parents.

The NICU matron believes the reason for the shortage of space is because the 500 babies they care for each year are staying in the unit for longer.

Some stay for up to six months.

"The closeness of all this equipment means health and safety issues, we've no storage space in here," she added.

The shortage of space means that some rooms take on a dual role, which can affect the babies' health.

She continued: "We should have a separate room for cleaning equipment and urine testing, there's a real cross infection issue."

Although Sister Sarah Goodwin says it's always been like this. "I've worked here for nearly 14 years and it's been bursting to capacity nearly all that time," ahe admitted.

Mrs Goodwin added that rooms which are big enough to comfortably fit two babies often have four.

"People walk past and think we have five or six babies here but we can have 21 at any one time."

As well as the space shortage posing health risks to sick babies it can have serious affect on parents, in some cases new mums can't see their babies until days after they are born.

"We need wider corridors, mums that have had Cesareans can't come down here until they're well enough to come down in a wheel chair," added Sister Goodwin.

"We do try to take into consideration space for the parents but then there's even less space in the rooms."

It is hoped that the NICU unit will provide energy efficient care by minimising polluting emissions and maximising recycling, both during construction and after its opening.

In order to raise the money needed to build the new ward the Forever friends appeal needs your help through donations and organisation of sponsored events.

For more information and details on how to get involved or make a donation, visit