Long Line Percutaneous Catheter Insertion

Children’s Services
Colchester Hospital
Turner Road

Neonatal Unit
Tel: 01206 742857 or 742950

What is a percutaneous catheter?

A long line is a long and very thin silicone tube that is placed in one of your baby’s veins for nutrition. It is long because we will put it into a small vein and then thread the line through until the tip lies in one of the large veins nearer to the heart.

More Information

Long lines are often used in premature babies and other babies who have problems with digesting milk. A percutaneous catheter is used for giving nutrition and, sometimes, medication directly into your baby’s bloodstream. These are strong solutions that might cause damage to your baby’s skin if given through an ordinary drip into a small vein.

The percutaneous catheter is usually put in a vein in your baby’s arm or leg.
Sometimes when it is difficult to find a suitable vein here we may need to use one of the veins on your baby’s scalp.

There is a risk of complications. The main risks are:

  • infection
  • blockage of the line
  • problems relating to the long line ending up in the wrong position
  • leakage of the intravenous fluid outside the vein.

Percutaneous catheters are put in on the Neonatal Unit using sterile gloves, gowns and antiseptic skin cleansing solution, just like in an operating theatre. Even so, they can sometimes become infected.

If there are concerns about infection, we may take the catheter out and give your baby antibiotics.

The catheter may also be removed or repositioned if any of the other complications occur or if it goes into the wrong place.

When the catheter has been placed, the doctor or nurse practitioner will request an X-ray on your baby to check that it is in the correct position.
We will use it to give nutrition or medication only when we are sure this is the case.

There will be brief discomfort because a needle is used. The doctor or nurse practitioner will assess whether your baby needs pain relief before starting the procedure. The nurse looking after your baby will ensure that he or she is as comfortable as possible for the procedure.

The catheter will be needed until your baby can take the full amount of milk needed for growth. It may be required for many days and sometimes weeks.

Once it is no longer needed it will be removed.

Removal rarely causes any complications. However, there may be a small amount of bleeding which is easily controlled by applying pressure to the site for a short while.

Percutaneous catheters are the recognised standard for delivering nutrition in premature and sick babies.

There are no real alternatives.

This procedure does not require you to give written consent because it is considered part of the normal pathway of care for your baby. 

However, the need for a catheter will be discussed with you before the procedure takes place.

If you have any further concerns or queries please do not hesitate to ask the nurse or doctor caring for your baby or, alternatively, phone the Neonatal Unit on 01206 742950.

When you attend hospital you will be asked to confirm your first and last names, date of birth, postcode and NHS number, if you know it.

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