Bliss, the UK charity which helps special care babies, has published a report on the state of neonatal services in England. The findings of the Bliss Baby Report 2015: Hanging in the Balance, reveal that neonatal services in England "are overstretched and under incredible pressure, putting the safety of the sickest babies at risk."
The report says that 2,140 more nurses are needed to meet national standards on safe staffing levels in neonatal units and that nursing staff are currently "being stretched to breaking point". The charity found 64% of neonatal units in England have insufficient nurses to meet national standards (60% of these units were understaffed due to "a severe lack of funding") while two thirds of neonatal units in England have insufficient doctors. Half these units lacked doctors because of similar funding problems.
The charity points out that, although the government’s national standards recommend that it is not safe to run neonatal units at an average occupancy of over 80%, more than two thirds of neonatal units are "consistently" run at this level. Bliss said that these average occupancy rates "puts babies at risk and adds to their families' stress and worry."
The charity also found that a third of units were unable to provide overnight accommodation for parents of babies who are critically ill or who live a long way from the hospital. The charity commented: "It is vital that parents are able to stay close to their baby as research shows that when parents are involved in their baby's care it improves their development and recovery, and eases the pressure on health professionals."
The Chief Executive of Bliss, Caroline Davey, said: "The government set out a comprehensive vision for neonatal care in 2009… Six years on and we are falling further behind on critical measures of quality and safety, and the shortfall in funding means units are simply unable to meet these standards… This unprecedented shortage is putting babies' safety, survival and long term development at risk."
Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “The Bliss report makes for uncomfortable reading. It is vital that properly funded and staffed neonatal services are available to meet the needs of the most vulnerable new-borns. Sadly, we regularly see cases of children who have life-changing injuries as a result of not receiving the care they need at birth.”