Understaffed neonatal units putting sick babies at risk, charity claims

The charity Bliss said 64% of neonatal units in England have unsafe nurse staffing levels

Nearly two thirds of neonatal units in England do not have enough nurses to meet national standards on safe staffing levels, a charity claims. 

A report by Bliss found 64% of units do not have enough nurses and two thirds do not have adequate numbers of specialist nurses. 

The charity, which campaigns for better care for premature and sick babies, said an extra 2,140 specialist nurses are needed to provide a good service. It said neonatal units are so stretched that sick babies are being placed at constant risk.

The ‘Bliss baby report 2015: hanging in the balance’ said many units have bed occupancy rates higher than the government’s recommended 80%.

Bliss chief executive Caroline Davey said: ‘The government set out a comprehensive vision for neonatal care in 2009, with the publication of a toolkit for high quality neonatal services. Six years on, we are falling further behind on critical measures of quality and safety. This must be a wake-up call to policy makers and healthcare commissioners to take action.’

Fiona Smith, the RCN's professional lead for children and young people’s nursing, said: ‘That the care of very tiny, vulnerable babies could be jeopardised by hard-pressed staff being pushed beyond their limits should be a matter of great concern for the NHS. 

‘The NHS, government and local managers must work together to find an urgent solution, ensuring we are training and employing enough skilled staff to do this vital work.’

An NHS spokesperson said: ‘Despite increasing demand, studies consistently show standards of NHS neonatal care are on a par with other European countries. We will consider the report and continue to work with Bliss and others to improve neonatal services.’

Read the report here


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