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Charity warns of neonatal nurse shortage


A report by a baby care charity has claimed that babies’ lives are being put at risk because there are not enough nurses working in neonatal units in England.

The annual review by Bliss claims that a shortage of 1,150 nurses is stretching services in the country to the limit, and vulnerable newborns will be deprived of the care they need unless action is taken.

It concludes in its sixth annual Baby Report that specialist units looking after 70,000 babies every year are chronically understaffed, while only a third have enough nurses to meet the Department of Health’s minimum standards.

It says more than half of these shortages are found in the most specialised centres - intensive care units.

A 2009 government report, Toolkit for High Quality Neonatal Services, recommended that neonatal units should have no more than 80% of their cots filled to allow for occasional peaks in activity and ensure that babies and their parents have access to the level of care they require.

However, Bliss’s research discovered that four in every five specialist centres are operating at a higher occupancy level than advised in the guidelines, with 100% of cots full for at least a month during 2009. Three-quarters of units had to turn away new admissions at some point last year.

General secretary of the Royal College of MidwivesCathy Warwick urged the government to invest in the recruitment and training of extra neonatal nurses.

She said: “We welcome this report and are concerned that it is highlighting that services for the sickest babies are being stretched to breaking point.

“Midwives and neonatal nurses provide a vital service supporting mothers and babies and more money needs to be invested in neonatal services and staffing to give the most vulnerable babies the best start in life.”


Readers' comments (3)

  • I work in Neonatal Intensive care and would agree that we are very often staffed to a minimum level and working at maximum occupancy! In addition to this budget cuts in health care mean that my trust is reviewing all our payscales. Nurses will be forced to reapply for our own jobs at band 6 with only enough funding for 25% of us to continue as band 6 nurses the remaining to be demoted and have pay cut to a band 5. There will be a great deal of experienced neonatal nurses looking for other jobs!

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  • I am also a neonatal nurse with 23 years experience in the speciality. Back in the 1990's we had much better staffing levels. Now we spend every day trying to get bank staff to work as we are dangerously under staffed & overworked. Trusts are amalgamating & blending several units into one or two. All that happens is that we have less neonatal cots & less local Units. Babies, families & staff are all worse off. I love my job but hate having to try to deliver good neonatal care when there is not enough equipment, cots, staff & support for families.
    Many staff are so stressed & at risk of total burnout. But hey what does the caring profession do? Ring you up on your only day off work to work!!!!!!!

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  • I am not surprised that there is a shortage of neonatal nurses in units with the highest levels of care. These are the units that often expect too much - working with too few staff, no time for adequate breaks and encouraging staff to work bank shifts to cover. On top of that many expect staff to work a mixture of day and night duty during every week. If as 'anonymous 2 Nov ' states, senior nurses are now being asked to effectively take a pay cut, I think -quite rightly- management will discover that there is only so much nursing staff will put up with.

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