The annual report of BLISS, a charity campaigning for improved neonatal services throughout the UK, has highlighted shocking levels of understaffing in Neonatal units, placing vulnerable newborn babies at risk of harm.
The report sets out a number of statistics for these units which demonstrate not only a lack of specialist nurses but generally poor staffing levels which are insufficient to meet even basic standards of safe care:
70% of neonatal intensive care units (NICUs) are consistently caring for many more babies than is considered safe
64% of neonatal units do not have enough nurses to meet national standards on safe staffing levels
2/3 of units do not have enough specialist nurses
In addition to the problems in providing basic levels of care, resources for support of families are affected with 30% of units providing no psychological support to parents at all and at 41% there is no access to a trained mental health worker.
Underfunding is part of the problem but more babies than even before are requiring specialist support at birth. In England alone, 1 in 9 babies needs neonatal care or a total figure of 77,000. While advances in medicine, enabling more babies to survive is one of the factors, the rise in the age at which women have their first babies and rising rates of fertility are also considered factors.
Caroline Davey, Chief Executive of Bliss said:
“There have been some welcome improvements, but we are falling further behind on several crucial measures of quality and safety, with neonatal units telling us that they are overstretched, understaffed and being pushed beyond their capacity.”
The full report from the charity says:
“Without urgent action from government, the NHS and health education bodies the problems highlighted in this report will worsen, widening the gap between national standards and the care that services are actually able to provide – putting babies’ chances of survival and their long-term health at risk.”
The charity is calling for people to sign up to an open letter to Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive calling for a fundamental review of funding levels for neonatal care.
If you or a family member has been adversely affected by an experience relating to Neonatal care, please contact a member of our Clinical Negligence team on 0800 316 8892.