Neonatal services in Northern Ireland struggling to provide safe care, charities say

Neonatal services in Northern Ireland are overstretched and struggling to provide safe care, according to a report by two charities

Neonatal services in Northern Ireland are overstretched and struggling to provide safe care, according to a report by charities Bliss and TinyLife.

The charities surveyed seven neonatal units operational in Northern Ireland during 2016/2017, asking about admissions, activity levels, staffing, training, facilities for families and other family support, including access to psychological services.

They found over half the neonatal units did not have enough nurses to meet minimum standards for providing safe, high-quality care.

In other findings, they said 55% of the nursing shortfall could be attributed to inadequate funding for recruitment, five of the seven neonatal units had difficulties with at least one aspect of nurse training and development, and five had no dedicated access to a mental health professional.

Three of them were unable to provide access to any trained mental health professional, including by referral to an external service.

Urgent investment

The report makes ten recommendations and calls for urgent investment in neonatal units along with a commitment by the Department of Health and Social Care and Northern Ireland’s  Health and Social Care Board and Public Health Agency to produce a neonatal specification for the country that includes measurable standards of care to reflect the specific needs of neonatal services there.

Bliss chief executive Caroline Lee-Davey said: ‘We know that neonatal staff do a fantastic job on limited resources, but our findings show that investment is urgently needed to ensure that every baby born premature or sick can receive the best care.’

A Department of Health Northern Ireland spokesperson said it would give ‘careful consideration’ to the report and added: ‘It has been acknowledged that along with the rest of the UK, in Northern Ireland the neonatal staffing levels need to be improved. We are addressing this issue in neonatal services through our work on neonatal nurse staffing levels using the Delivering Care framework.

‘The department has increased the annual intake of pre-registration nursing and midwifery students from a baseline of 710 in 2014/15 to 901 in 2017/18, an overall increase of 27%. Within this number, children’s nursing has risen from 55 places annually to 81, a 47.3% increase.’

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